How Alice Walker Explores the Meaning of Heritage in “Everyday Use”
In “Everyday Use” Alice Walker takes a deeper look at the concept of heritage through the conflicted relationship of Mamma and her two daughters. Heritage by dictionary definition is property that descends to an heir; legacy; birthright. The conflict in “Everyday Use” climaxes when Mamma must decide which daughter will receive the quilts. It is through the characters Mamma, Dee (Wangero), and Maggie that the meaning of heritage is explored. Let us begin with Mamma, who is after all the narrator of the story. Mamma describes herself as “a large, big-boned woman with rough, man-working hands… that her fat keeps her hot in zero weather” (161). Readers learn of Mamma’s practical prowess and pride in her abilities, she can “kill and clean a hog as mercilessly as a man, work outside all day breaking ice to get water for washing… and had the meat hung up from a bull calf she killed to chill before nightfall”(161). From this description, and a reference to her having no more than a 2nd grade education (163), it is apparent that she takes pride in the practical aspects of her nature and that she has not devoted much time to the contemplation of abstract concepts such as heritage. Even so, her lack of schooling and refinement does not hamper her from having an inherent (innate) understanding of heritage based on the love and respect she has for those who (have come and gone) came before her as evidenced by her ability to trace the origin of her eldest daughter, Dee’s name, her association of the fabric in the quilts to various family members’ clothes, and the butter churn dasher’s characterizing sinks she associated with its previous users. “You didn’t even have to look close to see where hands pushing the dasher up and down to make butter had left a kind of sink in the wood. In fact, there were a lot of small sinks; you could see where thumbs and fingers had sunk into the wood. It was a...
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