Type: Literary Analysis
Pages: 4 | Words: 978
Reading Time: 5 Minutes

The problems of home, self-identification and heritage are essential to people of any nationality. However, they are interpreted differently and the attitude of people determines whether traditions pull them back or inspire them to reach their goals and live happily. In the short story Everyday Use, an African-American author and activist Alice Walker brings up this burning issue of culture and heritage. She aims at representing both the harmony and the conflicts within her native African-American culture as exemplified by the usual Johnson family. However, it is a story that can serve as an eye-opener for any generation and the theme may be interpreted on a global scale.

Interpretation of Life Values and Family Ties in Story

The plot is very simple without any twists or much action. There are two daughters in a single-parent family who are polar opposites in their interests, ambitions, desires and attitudes. The elder daughter Dee pays a visit to see her mom and younger sister. Nevertheless, their relationships have never been very close.  It is clear that they do not get on well and do not understand each other. The reader can see opposing approaches to the culture. One of them belongs to educated and sophisticated Dee and the other one to her younger sister Maggie and their uneducated mother. Their perspectives are totally different.

For Maggie and her mom, the word heritage is associated with family traditions. They cherish the memory of their ancestors using the same things they did. Maggie is going to get the quilts which are a symbol of heritage after she gets married. It is characteristic that such a quilt will be a utility thing for her that will add to the warmth and coziness of her home. Her connection to the things from history is emotional and very personal. The concepts of style, fashion and prestige mean nothing to her. A quilt stitched by hand is a part of her memory which she will keep even if her sister lays hands on the thing she loves so much. 

Mrs. Johnson’s interpretation of life values and family ties is simple but close to the readers. One can feel that she is at home with herself and she is certain that she belongs to a great culture. The girls’ mom is a common country woman who does simple things in life which bring her satisfaction. She is happy with the life and grateful for the opportunities given to her. She cannot accept her elder daughter’s materialistic views and far-fetched ideas.

Though Maggie is quite unattractive and frightened, she is a likeable girl who has learnt a lot from her grandparents and keeps the family traditions. She is extremely shy and quite passive but her simple way of life and attitude makes her similar to her mother. Unlike her elder sister, Maggie accepts her life as it is. She does not care about possessions, money or proper education. The need of her heart and common sense guide her.

Ambitious and good-looking Dee also tries to keep to her ethnic background; she has even changed her name for Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo to get in touch with the heritage of African people. The irony is that her previous name was much more authentic as her aunt, grandmother, great grandmother and other women in her family had it. A new name is African, but it is not related to her family or heritage as it is. It means nothing to any of her relatives and thus, it is strange and non-indigenous. Even her male friend took a Muslim name and withdrew from the traditional culture of his people. They have got knowledge which is foreign and odd to their families; thus, it creates tension.  

Dee has rejected her actual heritage and made up a new fake one which she considers to be genuine. She does not appreciate what her family has done for the sake of her education and success. She is more concerned with her own affairs than the sufferings of her closest people. She does not realize that only owing to the money raised by her mother and the church she could go to school and college. In return, she is so ashamed for the appearance and ignorance of her mother as well as the misery of the house that she never brings her friends home. She used to despise the quilts made from the old clothes of her ancestors until she understood how expensive and precious they are as pieces of artwork. Dee is sure she is in control of life. She has a good grip on the situation and can get whatever she wants, including nice clothes, jewelry or any other things. That is the reason of her disappointment and anger when she does not get the quilts she wants to hang in her room instead of using them.

Material goods and vanity are set against traditions, customs and way of life. Dee believes that she has stepped into the future and is ready to start a new better life. She wants her mother and sister to join her but she does not understand that they are against losing their roots. For them, the heritage does not belong to the past; it is not frozen or dead. Traditional culture and history serves them as a basis of the present and the future.

Heritage and culture are to be a part of day-to-day routine, not just a colorful decoration. If there is no personal connection to traditions and history, the family heirloom turns into a decorative object without any soul. Mere knowledge of historical facts does not make you a part of a nation. It is possible to remember the ancestors without having their things as souvenirs or art objects. It is essential to be connected with the roots to have a decent future. National feeling, patriotism and appreciating the heritage should be intended for everyday use.

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