Understanding Heritage in Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use”

Alice Walker’s Everyday Use focuses on the theme of heritage and different interpretation of heritage by different generations. In fact, the author contrasts two different views on heritage. On the one hand, there is a mother’s, narrator’s view on heritage as a memory of old traditions and lifestyle of ancestors, while, on the other hand, there is a daughter’s, Dee’s view on heritage, according to which heritage is just old-fashioned, out-of-date things which are meaningless and useless. In this regard, the conflict over hand-made quilts, which symbolize the heritage, and its resolution reveals and reinforces the story’s theme, stressing the striking difference between generations in their views on heritage and the importance of heritage in the everyday life of people.

In actuality, the author stands on the ground that heritage is of the utmost importance because it mirrors the historical and cultural experience of ancestors, the experience which was transmitted from one generation to another. In such a context, such things as quilts are symbols of heritage and it is through the attitude to these things the true attitude of an individual to his or her heritage, ancestors and past of his or her family is revealed. At the same time, the author stresses that people should never forget about their heritage and they should respect it as the narrator of the story does.

On the other hand, the author reveals the fact that, in the contemporary world, the concept of heritage and the attitude to heritage have changed dramatically. Dee, the daughter of the narrator, does not respect her heritage and she does not understand what heritage actually means. She associates heritage with old things, like quilts, which are simply stored without any specific purpose. Thus, heritage becomes a kind of trash for her. It is obvious that she would easily throw away the old things because they are out of date, but it is these old things that are the heritage of her family. She cannot understand the significance of this heritage. When she re-discovers quilts, she finds that quilts are just scraps of dresses Grandma Dee had worn fifty years ago. Bits and pieces of Grandpa Jarrell’s Paisley shirts. And teeny faded blue piece that was from Great Grandpa Ezra’s uniform he wore in the Civil War (Walker, 498). Hence, her attitude to quilts is negligent, she scorns them because they are old fashioned and out-of-date.

In stark contrast, her mother is conscious of the significance of quilts as a symbol of heritage of her family. She associates quilts with the lifestyle of her ancestors and with the history of her family. She does not view quilts as a mere commodity or an old-fashioned thing.

Instead, she highly appreciates quilts and she is almost worshiping quilts as a symbol of heritage. No wonder, she is unwilling to give quilts to her daughter because Dee does not share her views on heritage and symbolic meaning of quilts. Nevertheless, when Mrs. Johnson decides to give quilts to Maggie, Dee states: You don’t understand Your heritage! (Walker, 491).

In such a way, the author reveals the full difference in views of the mother and the daughter on heritage. Their views are totally different and they can hardly close the gap in their attitude to heritage. Obviously, Dee will never understand the significance of quilts as essential elements of her family’s heritage, while the mother will not be able to understand the attitude of her daughter to her heritage. In such a way, the mother cannot accept the materialistic, consumerist attitude of her daughter to her heritage. The narrator does not accept the modern trend to consumerist when the value of things is defined not by their cultural significance, but by their trendiness. In fact, the author warns that such attitude to symbols of heritage and to heritage itself can lead to conflicts between generations. However, what is even more important, Alice Walker argues that such attitude to heritage is unacceptable, while the emerging consumerism is a threat to cultural traditions and values of the western civilization at large. Therefore, the conflict over quilts and its resolution do not simply reveal the controversy between the mother and the daughter but it also warns readers against the neglect to traditions of ancestors and their lifestyle.

The author stresses the importance of heritage and appeals to the audience to reconsider the attitude to heritage.

Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that the conflict over quilts in Alice Walker’s Everyday Use reveals and supports the main theme of the story the theme of heritage, difference of views on heritage and its symbols and the attitude to the lifestyle of ancestors at large confronted to the modern consumerism. The author rejects modern consumerism and reveals her admiration with the lifestyle of ancestors. In her story, the author attempts to persuade readers to remember and respect to their heritage.

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