Everyday Use by Alice Walker

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The Meaning of Heritage
In the early 1970s, the Black Power movement was not only a political slogan against racism, but also an ideology that promoted racial pride and embraced the elements of the African culture. During this time, many African-Americans were encouraged to grow their hairs into afros, wear traditional African clothing, and reject their white slave names. In the story Everyday Use, Alice Walker presents a family with opposing views towards tradition and creates a character fooled by the Black Power movement. The author uses irony to reveal a meaning of heritage hidden under the perceived idea of African-American identity. From the beginning, the oldest daughter, Dee, pretends to honor and embrace her roots, yet she rejects her past and her ancestors. When she comes home to visit Mama and her sister Maggie, she wears an extravagant yellow dress, gold earrings, and dangling bracelets. She uses the African greeting “Wa-su-zo-Tean-o!” and begs not be called Dee, but Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo, since she does not want to be “named after the people who oppressed [her]” (Schmidt 350). Dee changes her name to reconnect with, what she believes is, her African heritage. However, this turns to be ironic because she was named after her aunt Dicie, who was named after Grandma Dee, and by changing her name, Wangero is evading the important aspects of her name and the traditions of her family. Although Wangero is very educated, she lacks the most valuable knowledge. Throughout the story, she portrays an arrogant attitude of superiority towards Mama and Maggie. Mama says, “ she used to read to us without pity; forcing words, lies, other folk's habits, whole lives upon us, sitting trapped and ignorant underneath her voice. She washed us in a river of make-believe, burned us with a lot of knowledge we didn't necessarily need to know” (Schmidt 348). Mama does not feel pride for her daughter’s accomplishments; instead, she feels intimidated by Dee's egocentrism....
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