Everyday Use By Alice Walker With her story, “Everyday Use,” Alice Walker is saying that art should be a living, breathing part of the culture it arose from, rather than something from which to be observed from a distance. To make this point, she uses the quilts in her story to symbolize art; and what happens to these quilts represents her theory of art. The quilts themselves, as art, are inseparable from the culture they arose from.
The history of these quilts is a history of the family. The narrator says, “In both of them were scraps of dresses Grandma Dee had worn fifty and more years ago.Bits and pieces of Grandpa Jarrell’s Paisley shirts. And one teeny faded blue piece . .
. that was from Great Grandpa Ezra’s uniform that he wore in the Civil War.” So these quilts, which have become an heirloom, not only represent the family, but are an integral part of the family.
Walker is saying that true art not only represents its culture, but is an inseparable part of that culture. The manner in which the quilts are treated shows Walker’s view of how art should be treated. Dee covets the quilts for their financial and aesthetic value. “But they’re priceless!” she exclaims, when she learns that her mother has already promised them to Maggie. Dee argues that Maggie is “backward enough to put them to everyday use.
” Indeed, this is how Maggie views the quilts.She values them for what they mean to her as an individual. This becomes clear when she says, “I can ‘member Grandma Dee without the quilts,” implying that her connection with the quilts is personal and emotional rather than financial and aesthetic.
She also knows that the quilts are an active process, kept alive through continuous renewal. As the narrator points out, “Maggie knows how to quilt.” The two sisters’ values concerning the quilt represent the two main approaches to art appreciation in our society.
Art can be valued for financial and aesthetic reasons, or it can be valued for personal and emotional reasons.When the narrator snatches the quilts from Dee and gives them to Maggie, Walker is saying that the second set of values is the correct one. Art, in order to be kept alive, must be put to “Everyday Use” — literally in the case of the quilts, figuratively in the case of conventional art. Alice Walker is using the quilts, and the fate of those quilts, to make the point that art can only have meaning if it remains connected to the culture it sprang from. Her story itself is a good example: Walker didn’t write it to be observed under a glass case, judged aesthetically, and sold to the highest bidder; she meant it to be questioned, to be explored, to be debated — in short, to be put to “Everyday Use.”.