Different points of view on culture and heritage
Everyday Use is a literary explanation of what culture is. In Everyday
Use, the author Alice Walker confronts the question of what are the true values in
ones heritage and culture. In the conflict between Dee and her mother, Alice Walker
shows that ones culture and heritage are represented by neither the possession of
objects or external appearances, but by the lifestyle and attitude. In “Everyday Use,
Alice Walker personifies the different sides of culture and heritage in the characters of
Dee (Wangero) and her mother (the narrator). Dee can be seen to represent a complex
and modern way of life where culture and heritage are to be valued. Her mother
represents a practical way of life where they are valued both for it is usefulness as
well as personal significance.
When Dee first comes to visit the family, she is wearing a long dress, even
though the weather is very hot. We get the impression that Dee is more occupied with
aesthetic appearances rather than practicality. The dress is colored with
enough yellow and orange “to throw back the light of the sun”(1174). Dee is also
wearing numerous pieces of jewelry, earrings and bracelets. Even more than Alice
Walkers description of Dee is the significance of Dees “name change” to Wangero
that seems to symbolize Dees attitude about ones culture and heritage. It seems to
reflect a sort of glittery artificial pretense put on in order to assume sophistication.
Dee disregards the importance of her name, the fact that she was named after her aunt
Dicie.And when asked about why she changed her name, Dee can only discharge an
answer, “I couldnt bear it any longer, being named after the people who oppress
me.”(1175) Another important detail is the words directly preceding her answer about
what happened to her name V “Shes dead…” (1175) is Dees answer. By these words,
Alice Walker shows that Dee has distanced herself even further from her family,
heritage, and culture V despite her “new” name and the way of talking. Dee is
portrayed as aggressive, to the point of total lack of regard for her family. When she
first greets her family, she starts snapping pictures of the house and her mother before
even greeting them with a kiss or a hug, or even a handshake. Later, when they are in
the house, Dee begins just taking various items for herself, assuming they belong to
her first, before even asking permission from her mother. Alice Walker, through Mrs.
Johnsons point of view describes Dee as going straight “to the trunk at the foot of my
bed and started rifling through it.”(1177) Alice Walker uses Dees actions to portray
those like her as greedy and self-serving. By contrast, Dees mother does not fly into
any sort of rage. Instead, she is tolerant of Dees actions and words up until the final
part of the story.
Dee derides the house, yet her mother and Maggie continue to use the house
because despite its appearance, since it functions perfectly well as a home. The house
can be seen as one of the aspects of the familys culture and heritage – being
uneducated, poor descendents of slaves. Just as Dee hates the house she hates the
uncomplicated life of poverty that her family lives in. Dee decline the
house and yard, which symbolize of her familys past, at the same time she wants
various objects in the house – a churn top, a dasher, and several quilts which are just
as meaningful to the family history as the house and the yard are. But they are
reminders of the different views Dee and her Mother hold about culture and heritage.
Dee views these items as works of art. Mother sees their practical value and actually
makes use of them when Dee exclaims, “…they are priceless!(1177) it is because
they are handmade by her family and she envisions some sort of monetary value. But
what is really priceless is the actual ability to make these things.
Dee does not have this ability nor does she want it. She has declined her ability,
part of her true heritage, while her mother and her sister still occupy it. Walker is
trying to point out the motivations behind the characters – by Dees attitude toward
the heirlooms of the family is a sign of either culture or heritage.
The story is clear to us that Dee is equally confused about the nature of her
culture and heritage and Dees attitude is the irony and focal point of Alice Walkers
entire story. Regardless of Dees worldliness and education, she neither knows nor
values her real culture and heritage. Alice Walker shows that culture is neither name
changes or bright dresses and different hair. In the story, the culture gives us a unique
perspective into people lives and the conflicts they face. The way of the conflict is
handle in a decision left to the individual, who is guided by the cultural upbringing.
Therefore, people who occupy their real heritage and culture makes use of it every
day of their life.