In Alice Walker's "Everyday Use", the three main characters are necessary in revealing the underlying concepts of the story. The critic Timothy Sexton asserts that the older daughter, Dee, is the "embodiment of the struggle for a unifying identity" (par. 4). In contrast with Dee, the critics Houston A Baker, Jr. and Charlotte Pierce-Baker consider Maggie to be a guardian of history, or "griot" (164). On the other hand, David White describes Mama as having an "inherent understanding of heritage," something less apparent among the two children (par. 3). Dee, Maggie, and Mama serve as artistic representations of the various aspects of African Americans culture and heritage. In addition, they are our creative guide to understanding the identity struggles that African Americans faced during that time period.
Dee is a selfish and egotistical character with a superficial understanding of her inheritance. She characterizes the confusion and misguidance of young African Americans in the late 60s and 70s. This is apparent in her interactions with her mother and sister. As Sexton notes, Dee "considers herself as cultured, and beyond the abased quality of the lives lived by her mother and sister" (par. 3). She makes her feelings clear when she attempts to "take" the quilts Mama had promised to Maggie: "Maggie can't appreciate these quilts... she'd probably be backward enough to put them to everyday use" (Walker, 103). By using the quilts for purposes other than their original intent she believes that she is respecting her heritage, but this is not the case: her desire to put them on display is "really not quite so different from the white capitalist cashing in on ethnic artworks" (Sexton, par. 4) Not only is she conforming to the worst of American ideals, but she is rejecting and disrespecting her own cultural heritage-- all under the pretenses of preserving it. It is in this sense that she is the "embodiment of the struggle for a unifying identity," because she has not...
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