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Everyday Use: Symbolism Essay


Alice Walker is a well-known African- American writer known for published fiction, poetry, and biography. She received a number of awards for many of her publications. One of Walker's best short stories titled "Everyday Use," tells the story of a mother and her two daughters' conflicting ideas about their heritage. The mother narrates the story of the visit by her daughter, Dee (Wangero). She is an educated woman who now lives in the city, and is visiting from college. She begins a conflict with her younger sister Maggie. The conflict leads this story to explore heritage by using symbolism with family items, and tradition.

The two daughters (Dee and Maggie) are two entirely different people. Dee however, has no hold on what her heritage is. Dee takes several Polaroid pictures of mama with Maggie cowering behind her. However, she never takes a shot without making sure the house is included (760). This shows Dees lack of respect to her mother and sisters way of everyday life. She is using their lifestyle as a form of art. After she enters the house she quickly corrects her mother and informs her that she has changed her name from Dee to Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo (760). Wangero then explains how she could not bear the name of the people who oppress her; the name Dee gave her family ties that could be traced back for generations (760). The name change symbolizes her trying to get away from her heritage even more so than she already has. As they ate supper, Wangero was delighted over the meal. She was even delighted to find the benches her father had made when they could not afford chairs were still at the table. Wangero did not respect the benches as everyday furniture but once again, as art. Same as with the butter churn in the corner. She examines the churn and thinks of ways to utilize the pieces; I can use the churn top as the centerpiece for the alcove table and Ill think of something artistic to do with the dasher (761). The churn still had clobbered milk on it showing it was still in use. However, this did not stop Wangero. She knew that there was other ways to get butter rather than churn it. She does not understand that the churn is a part of her heritage and their everyday life.

Once satisfied with her new pieces of everyday living art Wangero proceeded to the bed room where she selected two handmade quilts; Mama, Wangero said sweet as a bird. Can I have these old quilts? (762) Wangero knew that no was a word the world never learned to say to her (757). She was in fact spoiled by the world; receiving what she wanted when she wanted. However, when mother recalls she has already promised the two quilts to Maggie she forwards Dee to select different quilts. She in return refused because she was too busy trying to imagine her grandmother slaving over the quilts (762). Dee then starts a conflict with Maggie and Mama over the possession of two heirloom quilts. Mama however can hear the discouragement in Maggies voice; she said it like somebody used to never winning anything, or having anything reserved for her (762). When ask what she will be using the quilts for Wangero replies Hang themas if it were the only thing you could do with quilts (762). This comment shows Wangero has lost sight of her heritage. She cannot even understand what the meaning of a quilt is. After rudely insulting Maggie, Mama had had enough padding Wangeros feelings. Therefore, she hugs Maggie close and snatches the quilts out of Wangeros hands and throws them onto Maggies lap; once again forwarding Dee to take one or two of the others (763). After all, Maggie still lives the lifestyle of her ancestors; she deserves the title of ownership to the two quilts. Her daily chores remind her daily of her heritage; Whereas Wangero refers to their lifestyle as backwards and cannot see the meaning behind the way they are living. These quilts show hardship with each stitch and will be set to everyday use with Maggie and her new husband as they begin a life of hardships together.

To Wangero the backwards way of living for mama and Maggie is nothing more than a refuse to change. What Wangero sees as art they see to be the essentials of everyday life; a reminder to them of their heritage, Heritage that they are carrying out daily through family items and tradition. This to them these items are for Everyday Use.

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