The Meaning of Heritage in the Family as depicted in Alice Walker’s Everyday Use
Everything in this world appears to have a history including history itself. History tells people the roots and the legends that explain where and how things started and how people, place and things end up like they are now. In all places and in all ages and times, people have always valued history as it gives them the feel and the sense that they originated in one special place and time. When it comes to families, a history is usually in the form of a heritage. A family’s heritage pays importance to ancestry and to the earlier roots of such a family lineage. Usually, people, especially the young ones tend to have this impression that only the elders value heritage. This can be because they would also like to be remembered, or maybe because heritage and ancestry are just topics for the old. But no matter how the young generation treats heritage and history, one things remains certain: in the deepest part of each and every person there lies a point where they will choose to look back, reminisce and try to point out where they actually came from. And all these boils down to family heritage and history.
A good example of this claim can be seen in Alice Walker’s short story, Everyday Use. In a nut shell it tells the story of a mother who had to make a decision of whether to give or not to give her eldest daughter the quilt – as her mere collection piece – that her family has valued for generations. Dee who suddenly comes home from college with a different name, Wangero, demands for her mother’s quilts which she apparently would want to ‘hang’ in her home as a part of her new collection. But since the quilt had a very significant value for her family and ancestor’s history, the mother refuses as she values heritage above having a collection. Aside from this, in the back of the mother’s head, she knew she promised her younger daughter Maggie the quilt as a present for her marriage. But the real dilemma in her mind is that giving it to Dee will seem like giving up their family’s very important and well valued and protected heritage. However, the basis of her decision eventually became clearer as she finds out the reasons why her elder daughter Dee would want to take the quilt and what she plans to do with it. Though the mother kept on emphasizing the quilt was priceless aside from the fact that she was planning to give it to Maggie – partly as a consolation since she was always the ‘less achiever’ – Dee would also insist that Maggie would not pay so much value to it as well that she better give it to her as it would serve a more important purpose in Dee’s wall (Walker & Christian 39). The decision at this point becomes clear since the mother was also able to connect Dee’s behavior to the changes that she exhibits. Upon Dee’s arrival, it was clear to them that she already embraced a totally different ideology since it was evident that she changed her ways and even her name. She even announced that “Dee is dead” and that she is already a different person (29). This probably gave the mother the initial notion that maybe a lot of other things have changed about Dee, including her views on their family’s tradition and heritage. Thus this have let Dee’s mother conclude that giving the quilt to her may not just mean giving up the long valued heritage of their family but also tolerating the change of her daughter’s identity which she did not like in the first place since it appears as a huge turn-back on what she was before as her daughter. Moreover, the decision totally becomes clear as Maggie suggested to give up the quilt to her sister since she can remember her grandmother giving it up anyways. This was when the mother found in her little Maggie’s eyes the sincere remembrance of how the quilt meant to her mother and grandmother, since in giving up the quilt, she did it while looking back how her grand mother gave it up as well. In this part, it appears undeniable and understandable that the mother’s decision for finally giving the quilt to the young Maggie was the best decision. For the elder daughter Dee, it was not a good decision at all as she thought her mother and sister are having wrong interpretations and valuations of heritage. But the moving thought here is that, aside from heritage, selflessness indeed counts. And this was what moved the mother to give the quilt to Maggie.
In the end, Dee may not understood where her mother was coming from when she decided to give the quilt to her younger sister. This is because she refuses to understand the old and traditional ways since she embraced a totally different belief and personality already.
But this will nevertheless teach Dee as well as all the readers a lesson that heritage for some can indeed be a huge, unchanging and essential part of their live, that when this would be taken away of taken or would be taken for granted, their lives may fall apart as well. But aside from this, the experience might have also taught Maggie that envying her sister for all her success and achievements is not at all necessary since what she has is a special and a more priceless possession that her sister might never earn anymore, and that is pure and sincere selflessness and regard to their family’s history.
Truly, nothing will ever beat going back to where you came from and looking back on the things which molded a person into what he or she has become. Considering this, it may appear ironic that with Dee’s return, she shows up completely changed. And instead of looking back to her roots and valuing what has been important to her before, she treats them like mere objects for display. And so as it the story concludes, it shows up clear that aside from Maggie’s paying importance for their heritage, her mother gives her the quilt as a recognition for her selflessness despite knowing about everything that her sister has already achieved in life. Thus, truly all good things and deeds are paid of better rewards in return.
Walker, Alice & Christian, Barbara. Everyday Use. Rutgers University Press, 1994. (pp. 29, 39)