A Contrast between Dee and Maggie’s View Concerning Their Heritage In my writing essay I shall analyze the way in which heritage can be conceived in Alice Walker’s novel Everyday Use, trying to point out the author’s main ideas concerning the theme of the story. I would also try to describe the two daughter’s points of view, Dee and Maggie’s, about their ancestral heritage. The contrast between these two daughters is more than obvious not only in their appearance but also in their behavior when it comes to quilts from their grandmother.
Everyday Use is a story narrated by a rural black woman, who is the mother of the two girls Maggie and Dee Johnson. Mrs. Johnson, is a simple woman but who, in spite of all difficulties that she passed through, she tried to give her daughters if possible, a good education and of course the most important thing, to make them aware of what heritage is indeed, the fact that traditional culture and heritage is not represented only by the possession of old objects, but also by one’s behavior and customs.
She outlines in the story that she is not a very educated woman, but this does not mean that the lack of education is also reflected in her capacity to understand, to love and to respect her ancestors. Since the beginning of the story, the narrator makes obvious the contrast between Maggie and her elder sister Dee. Dee is a very ambitious girl, with a well-defined character, the one who had always been successful and ambitious. Maggie thinks “her sister has held life, always in the palm of one hand, that “no” is a word the world never learned to say to her. (Walker 2469). Dee denies her real heritage by changing her given name, after her aunt Dee, to the superficially more impressive one Wangero Leewanik Kemanjo, arguing to her mother that “Dee is dead and I couldn’t bear it any longer, being named after the people who oppress me” ( Walker 2472), what she does in fact is to reject her family identity. She inspires in her mother “a sort of awe and fear more suitable to the advent of a goddess than the love one might expect a mother to feel for a returning daughter” (Farell, “Flight”).
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On the other hand, Maggie is the type of simple girl, like her mother, with little education. She is not ambitious like her sister Dee, living somehow in her mother’s shadow. But this might be also because Maggie hadn’t her sister luck and she burned severely in the house fire when she was a child, becoming now a shy and fearful person. These features are more visible in her attitude while waiting for her sister to come home. Mama is projecting her own anger and frustration onto her younger daughter when she speculates that Maggie will be cowed by Dee’s arrival. Maggie will be nervous until after her sister goes: she will stand hopelessly in corners homely and ashamed of the burn scars down her arms and legs, eyeing her sister with a mixture of envy and awe” ( Walker 2469). As Marianne Hirsch says in one of her critical essays: “the mother sees in Maggie’s angerless, fear an image of her own passive acceptance of Dee’s aggression, her own suppressed anger” Moreover, we can see through the lines of this story that, at the beginning, Dee was the daughter that mother preferred most because of her authority and because she wanted to succeed in life by following her instincts.
But when she saw her totally changed, not only physically but also in her mentality, mother realized that Maggie was the one that understood the meaning of “heritage” and tried to give her justice. It is relevant “Mama’s awakening to one’s daughter’s superficiality and to the other’s deep-seated understanding of heritage” ( Tuten, “Alice Walker’s Everyday Use” ). However, Dee seems to despise her sister, her mother and the church that helped to educate her. Intentionally or not, she is selfish and she treats her sister with indifference.
While Dee escaped from the poor life she was supposed to live, Maggie, next to her mother, represents the multitude of black women who must suffer. Scarred, graceless, not bright and uneducated, “Maggie is a living reproach to a survivor like her sister” (Cowart, “Heritage”) . The contradictions about heritage and culture between Maggie and Dee become more extensive when the quilts take part from the story. After dinner, Dee discovers some old quilts which belonged to her grandmother.
She is very excited that found them, thinking that these quilts represent the testament of her ancestors. Without taking into account Maggie’s opinion, she asks her mother if she can have those quilts, arguing that she is the only one who can appreciate and have the right to keep them. At first, mother hesitates to give her an answer and offers her other quilts but Dee gets upset and then mother explains to her that the quilts were from Maggie as a wedding gift. Maggie’s tolerance in the story contrasts with Dee’s boldness.
When Dee insists that her sister would ruin grandma’s quilts by using them everyday, and that hanging the quilts would be the only way to preserve them, Maggie “ like somebody used to never wining anything, or having anything reserved for her” says “ She can have them, Mama. I can remember Grandma Dee without the quilts” (Walker, 2474). Mrs. Johnson then realizes what makes Maggie different form her sister. She sees her scarred hands hidden in her skirt and says: “When I looked at her like that something hit me in the top of my head and ran down to the soles of my feet.
Just like when I’m in the church and the spirit of God touches me and I get happy and shout” (Walker, 2475). This powerful feelings determines Mama to do something she had never done before: “she snatched the quilts out of Miss Wangero’s hands and dumped them into Maggie’s lap” ( Walker, 2475). Mama’s behavior here is almost like Dee’s because she rebuffs her wishes for the first time and give justice to the most patient Maggie. The fact that she takes the quilts from Dee and gives them to Maggie, “she confirms her younger daughter’s self-worth: metaphorically, she gives Maggie her voice” ( Tuten, “Alice Walker’s Everyday Use” ).
In conclusion, I can say that Everyday Use is a story about understanding heritage. This concept is very well exposed by the two characters Alice Walker created, Dee and Maggie. These two daughters have a completely different view in what concerns the heritage from their ancestors; in this case their origins and their inheritance, the quilts from Grandma Dee. Maggie is the one who understands that heritage is about respecting family’s traditions and customs while Dee destroys the traditional image kept by Mrs.
Johnson and her sister. She denies her true origins by changing the given name into more fashionable one, Wangero Leewanik Kemanjo. One should appreciate his legacy because it represents indeed what we are. We can not hide our roots and even if we want, this would not be possible because it always remains present in our souls and our minds, we like it or not. WORKES CITED PRIMARY SOURCE: Walker, Alice. Everyday Use. In Love and Trouble: Stories of Black Women New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1973.
SECONDARY SOURCE: Cowart, David . ”Heritage and deracination in Walker's "Everyday Use. " Studies in Short Fiction. FindArticles. com. Farrell Susan. "Fight vs. Flight: a re-evaluation of Dee in Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use”- Critical Essay". Studies in Short Fiction. FindArticles. com. Hirsch, Marianne. “Clytemnestra’s Children: Writing the Mother’s Anger. ” Alice Walker: Modern Critical Views. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House, 1989. Tuten, Nancy. “Alice Walker’s Everyday Use. ” The Explicator 51. 2,1993
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