Lost Heritage in Alice Walker's "Everyday Use"
By contrasting the family characters in "Everyday Use," Walker illustrates the mistake by some of placing the significance of heritage solely in material objects. Walker presents Mama and Maggie, the younger daughter, as an example that heritage in both knowledge and form passes from one generation to another through a learning and experience connection. However, by a broken connection, Dee, the older daughter, represents a misconception of heritage as material. During Dee's visit to Mama and Maggie, the contrast of the characters becomes a conflict because Dee misplaces the significance of heritage in her desire for racial heritage.
Mama and Maggie symbolize the connection between generations and the heritage that passed between them. Mama and Maggie continue to live together in their humble home. Mama is a robust woman who does the needed upkeep of the land,
I am a large, big-boned woman with rough, man-working hands. In the winter, I wear overalls during the day. I can kill and clean a hog as mercilessly as a man. I can work outside all day, One winter I knocked a bull calf straight in the brain with a sledge hammer and had the meat hung up to chill before nightfall. (Walker 289)
And Maggie is the daughter, "homely and ashamed of the burn scars down her arms and legs," (Walker 288) who helps Mama by making "the yard so clean and wavy" (Walker 288) and washes dishes "in the kitchen over the dishpan" (Walker 293). Neither Mama nor Maggie are 'modernly' educated persons; "I [Mama] never had an education myself. Sometimes Maggie reads to me. She stumbles along good- naturedly She knows she is not bright" (Walker 290). However, by helping Mama, Maggie uses the hand-made items in her life, experiences the life of her ancestors, and learns the history of both, exemplified by Maggie's knowledge of the hand-made items and...
Cited: Walker, Alice. "Everyday Use." Literature: Reading, Reacting, Writing. Ed.
Laurie G. Kirszner and Stephen R. Mandell. Fort Worth: Harcourt, 1994. 288-295.
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