The central theme of the story concerns the way in which an individual understands his present life in relation to the traditions of his people and culture. Dee tells her mother and Maggie that they do not understand their “heritage” because they plan to put “priceless” heirloom quilts to “everyday use.” The story makes clear that Dee is equally confused about the nature of her inheritance both from her immediate family and from the larger black tradition.
The matter of Dee’s name provides a good example of this confusion. Evidently, Dee has chosen her new name (“Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo”) to express solidarity with her African ancestors and to reject the oppression implied by the taking on of American names by black slaves. To her mother, the name “Dee” is symbolic of family unity; after all, she can trace it back to the time of the Civil War. To the mother, these names are significant because they belong to particular beloved individuals.
Dee’s confusion about the meaning of her heritage also emerges in her attitude toward the quilts and other household items. Although she now rejects the names of her immediate ancestors, she eagerly values their old handmade goods, such as the hand-carved benches made for the table when the family could not afford to buy chairs. To Dee, artifacts such as the benches or the quilts are strictly aesthetic objects. It never occurs to her that they, too, are symbols of oppression: Her family made these things because they could not afford to buy them. Her admiration for them now seems to reflect a cultural trend toward valuing handmade objects, rather than any sincere interest in her “heritage.” After all, when she was offered a quilt before she went away to college, she rejected it as “old-fashioned, out of style.”
However, a careful reading of the story will show that Dee is not the only one confused about the heritage of the black woman in the rural South. Although the mother and Maggie are skeptical of Dee, they recognize the limitations of their own lives. The mother has only a second-grade education and admits that she cannot imagine looking a strange white man in the eye. Maggie “knows she is not bright” and walks with a sidelong shuffle. Although their dispositions lead them to make the best of their lives, they admire Dee’s fierce pride even as they feel the force of her scorn.
Taken as a whole, although the story clearly endorses the commonsense perspective of Dee’s mother over Dee’s affectations, it does not disdain Dee’s struggle to move beyond the limited world of her youth. Clearly, however, she has not yet arrived at a stage of self-understanding. Her mother and sister are ahead of her in that respect.
Everyday Use Literary Analysis Essay
1306 WordsSep 26th, 20086 Pages
Mother vs. Daughter In the short story called “Everyday Use,” by Alice Walker, the mother daughter conflict theme is portrayed throughout the whole story. The oldest daughter Dee constantly believes that she is better than the rest of the family causing a family feud about who gets the cherished quilt. Dee has always been on a pedestal over her family and she soon finds out that it is no longer the case. Once she finds this out conflict arises. The biggest conflict lies between Mama and Dee. This is clearly illustrated by Dee’s high standards, selfish behavior, and lack of knowledge about her family’s heritage. Dee sets impossible standards for her mother, causing Mama to feel inferior. Dee forces Mama to be the way Dee would…show more content…
In Dee’s eyes the pasture that her Mama lives in is not comparable to her fast pace high style world. This caused her to not even bring her friends over to their house (Walker 290). Her friends even put her on a pedestal, just like Mama. “They were nervous girls who never laughed. They were impressed with Dee they worshiped the well-turned phrase, the cute shape, and scalding humor that erupted like bubbles in lye” (Walker 290). This description of how Dee’s friends view her is told by Mama. This is another example of how Mama puts Dee on an unneeded pedestal. She describes her as some kind of God that her friends worship. In reality, it is Mama worshipping Dee. Dee’s selfishness is also portrayed by her cultured verbal skills. Dee can talk her way through anything. Dee often manipulates others with her verbal skills. This is shown when she reads to her mother and sister “without pity; forcing words, lies, other folks’ habits, whole lives upon us, sitting trapped and ignorant underneath her voice” (Walker 289). This statement further demonstrates the fact that Dee’s family feels inferior to her. Mama describes the situation as if Dee has some kind of power over her family because she is scholarly and her family is not. Dee uses her education to make Mama and Maggie feel less important without, necessarily meaning to. Critic, Nancy Tuten believes that Mama does not like the fact that Dee bosses her and Maggie around.