Out with the Old and New
Each of us is raised within a culture, a set of traditions handed down by those before us. As individuals, we view and experience common heritage in subtly differing ways. Within smaller communities and families, deeply felt traditions serve to enrich this common heritage. In Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use”, the message about the preservation, specifically African-American heritage is very clear in her eagerness to claim an ancient heritage; a woman may deny herself the substantive personal experience of familial traditions. There are two main approaches to heritage preservation depicted by the characters in this story. To Dee, the narrator’s oldest daughter, heritage is the past something to frame or hang on the wall. Walker depicts Dee’s views of family heritage as being one of confusion and lack of understanding. The narrator, a middle-aged African American woman, and her youngest daughter Maggie, are in agreement with Walker. To them, their family heritage is everything around them that is involved in their everyday lives. Angered by what she views as a history of oppression in her family, Dee has constructed a new heritage for herself and rejected her real heritage. She fails to see the family legacy of her given name and takes on a new name, “Wangero” (Walker 219), which she believes more accurately represents her African heritage. However, the new name, like the “African” clothes and jewelry she wears to make a statement, is meaningless. She has little true understanding of Africa, so what she considers her true heritage is actually a false reality. Furthermore, Dee views her real heritage as “dead” (Walker 220), something of the past, rather than as a living, ongoing creation. She desires the carved dasher and family quilts, but she sees them as artifacts of a lost time, suitable for display but not for actual, practical use. She has set herself outside her own history, rejecting her real heritage in favor of...
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