The American Melting Pot: Devourer of Cultures
Both Dee in Alice Walkers Everyday Use and Shyamoli in Chitra Divakarunis Mrs. Dutta Writes a Letter purposely reject their family heritage in the hope of reshaping their own cultural identities to fit in with those who live in modern day America. Mama portrays Dee as the most intelligent daughter in the family, but also as the most superficial and nave because of her tendency to prioritize fashion and trends instead of family and traditions. Dees aspirations to own the family heirlooms for decorative purposes, such as the quilt, only furthers her disconnection from her familys ancestral culture and strengthens her false assimilation into the superficial teenage American culture which continues to pressure her to conform to society and deny her true cultural identity. Shyamoli, like Dee, is also pressured into the idea that she is obligated to be a part of the modern day American culture, which is the community she lives in. To conform she must reject her heritage and adopt new behavioral patterns and attitudes or else she will be an outcaste, just as Mrs. Dutta is by the neighbors when she hangs her clothes over the fence joining the neighbors yards. Alice Walker and Chitra Divakaruni stress the importance of not abandoning ones heritage due to peer pressure or just to avoid conflict, but embrace it because the importance of heritage and carrying on family traditions are far more rewarding than temporarily pleasing a certain social group or individual.
As America continues to strengthen its metaphorical cultural assimilation, deemed the melting pot; cultures and traditions continue to weaken while becoming absorbed into or lost to American trends. The Black Power movement during the 1960s and 1970s is a prime example of how cultures can become apart of trends and enlarge the melting pot. Dees obsession with the Black Power movement, along with so many other young African Americans begins the process of rejecting her true family heritage, in the hopes of living out the fantasy of embracing her African roots. By incorporating the current trend of the Black Power movement Dees egotistical and selfish characteristics only continue to allow her to become engrossed in disregarding her familys American heritage. Everything delighted her. Even the fact that we still used the benches her daddy made for the table when we couldnt afford to buy chairs (Walker 563). Dee was once ashamed of being poor and unable to buy nice things, now due to her new association with the Black Power movement trend, Dees priorities change from wanting nice new things to wanting things which symbolize African oppression and family decent. Dee now sees her culture as an artifact and wishes not to preserve it but to display it like fine art in a gallery. I can use the churn top as a centerpiece for the alcove table, and Ill think of something artistic to do with the dasher (563). Dee fails to realize the true value of the butter churner and the dasher because of the disconnection between her and her family culture. She has now become so submerged under the pressure to have these items, she forgets what the items mean sentimentally, and is worried how they appear artistically; unlike Maggie who is aware of her family heritage and states that it was Aunt Dees first husband Henry, or better known as Stash, who whittled the dasher instead of associating the items with worldly value as Dee did. She continues to disregard the true value of these priceless heirlooms when comes across the family quilts and asks Momma if she could have them, even though she had rejected them previously when she went off to college because they were old-fashioned and out of style. Momma rightfully decides to deny Dee the ownership of the quilts in order for Maggie to continue the family legacy. But theyre priceless! Maggie would put them on the bed and in five years theyd be in rags (564). Dee fails to realize why Momma would give them to Maggie because she is consumed with how she can decorate with them instead of how she can preserve them. Due to the pressure of conforming and joining the melting pot Dees ideal of heritage has become less important to her than her huge sunglasses and she is unable to see what is really important, her family.
American culture differs greatly between the traditions, beliefs, and spirituality of the Indian culture. For someone who is raised outside of American culture usually they have to abandon their traditions and heritage because they are considered heathens if they do not. Although Indian culture is very different from American culture, it in no way raises heathens. For example, one major element in Indian culture is to have great respect for elders and to carefully listen to their wisdom. Shaymoli may have been raised to follow this cultural rule, but now having to adjust to American culture a conflict forms between which cultures she will adhere too:
We cant Mother, Shaymoli had said with a sigh when Mrs. Dutta asked Sagar to put up a clothesline for her in the backyard. (Shaymoli sighed often nowadays. Perhaps it was an American habit? Mrs. Dutta did not remember the Indian Shaymoli, the docile bride shed mothered for a month before putting her on a Pan AM flight to join her husband (Divakaruni 573).
Shaymoli directly revokes her Indian cultural teachings of respecting your elders and blatantly disrespects her mother-in-law by not allowing her the right to live how she was taught too. Mrs. Dutta realizes that Shaymoli is lost in the American melting pot and no longer holds her Indian culture close to her, but strives to obey the American guidelines set upon her. Shaymoli no longer respects Mrs. Dutta as an elder, but now sees her as an embarrassment. This can be seen through Shaymolis decision not to let Mrs. Dutta greet the neighbors with tea, which is an old Indian tradition. Its just not done, not in a nice neighborhood like this one. And being the only Indian family on the street, we have to be extra careful, People here sometimes-- (573). Shaymoli abandons her heritage in the hopes of fitting into the stereotypical American lifestyle which is absent from the simplistic lifestyle of the Indian culture. Although to fit into the American lifestyle many minorities and immigrants must make the choice of rejecting their heritage or embracing it and becoming a social outcast. Shaymolis choice to deny Mrs. Duttas gesture to greet the neighbors with Indian tea was also her choice to leave her Indian heritage behind. She then half heartedly tries to explain to Mrs. Dutta why it is not done in America, which is Because Americans dont like neighbors to invade their privacy (577). Once a follower of the Indian culture, Shaymoli now rejects all that she has been taught while living in India and conforms to American culture. This is also shown through her actions when she fails to pour the childrens half-drunk glasses of milk down the drain but instead insists on saving them by putting them in the fridge. Mrs. Dutta is surprised that Shaymoli would do this because she was raised in a Hindu family which states that jutha[Food that has come in contact with ones mouth or saliva.] must not allowed to sit next to other food because it will contaminate everything. The jutha is no longer a food that needs to be thrown out to avoid contamination but it now symbolizes the American culture and how it has contaminated Shaymolis personal identity allowing her to become corrupt and abandon her true heritage.
Both Dee and Shaymoli have converted from their initial cultures they were raised from to assimilate into American culture. Each woman knowingly left their family to join the American family, created from the melting pot of cultures. In doing this they have rejected their long line of family traditions and may never be able to recover them. They are now designated to no longer continue their heritage but transform into the new heterogeneous American culture of diversity.
Abcarian, Richard, and Marvin Klotz. Literature: The Human Experience. Massachusetts: Boston, 2007.
Divakaruni, Chitra Banerjee. Mrs. Dutta Writes a Letter. Literature The Human Experience Reading and Writing. Ed. Richard Abcarian and Klutz 9th ed. Boston: Bedford/St.Martins, 2007. 568-582.
Walker, Alice. Everyday Use. Literature The Human Experience Reading and Writing. Ed. Richard Abcarian and Klutz 9th ed. Boston: Bedford/St.Martins, 2007. 568-582.