“How does Alice Walker’s stories represents heritage conflict in the 1970s?
Alice Walker is a contemporary Afro-American writer who is renowned for her feminist beliefs and the way in which she reflects her views of the heritage of black American women in her prose and stories. This essay explores two of Walker’s works, Roselily and Everyday Use, both of which appeared in Walker’s collection of short stories entitled, In Love and Trouble in 1973. The paper examines the way in which the heritage conflict of the 1970s is represented and symbolized in both of these stories.
Alice Walker’s short story Everyday Use, appeared in her. The story was predominantly concerned with the concept of heritage and addresses the way in which traditional values, culture and beliefs can be lost as a result of the pressure or desire to fit into other cultures and belief systems. Within the story conflicting views of the importance of heritage are presented through the characters of the prose and the way in which they interact with the everyday items of their home.
In Roselily the theme of heritage is perhaps a little more subtle, with the story containing other, more prominent themes such as isolation and loneliness, male domination and inner turmoil. This story tells the tale of Roselily, an African America woman who is to marry a Muslim man and centers around her thoughts and feelings as the wedding takes place. In Everyday Use, the story is told through the eyes of Mama and key messages and statements are made through the representation of her two daughters, Dee and Maggie.
Whereas Mama represents a solid, cautious and thoughtful character, Dee is portrayed as frivolous and superficial, someone who is unable to look beyond the surface of the world in which she lives. Her actions and behavior have a profound effect on her sister who appears to walk in Dee’s shadow feeling ugly and worthless. The main characters of Roselily and, as with Mama in Everyday Things, everything is told from her perspective.
Whilst the man to whom she will marry is mentioned, he is never named, his presence in the story is there to represent a new life for Roselily, away from her past and her freedom: “She thinks of ropes, chains, handcuffs, his religion” (Walker, 1). In both pieces of writing the views of the individual characters are utilized to ensure that the importance of the heritage of Afro-Americans is not only recognized but that it is understood in the correct way. In Everyday Things the story is structured around the way in which each of the three characters views their heritage.
Dee, successful and intelligent, feels the need to be progressive and modern and expresses embarrassment of her past. She feels that anything that occurred in her past is irrelevant to her current and future life and appears to pick and choose the elements of her background with which she wishes to affinitize herself with. Her African background, for example, exists to her as something through which she can achieve aesthetic or artistic objectives. An example of this can be seen in the way she changes her name from what she believes to be an American name, Dee, to Wangero Leewamika Kemanjo.
Although here her intentions are to try and associate herself with her tradition and background there is an irony to her rejection of the name Dee that, in itself, was more closely aligned with her African roots than she recognized. Further evidence of Dee’s superficial embracement of her African culture can be seen within her appearance and the way in which she attempts to affiliate herself with her African background and make a statement about the culture from whence she originated: “A dress down to the ground, yellows and oranges enough to throw back the light of the sun.
Earrings gold, too. Bracelets dangling and making noises. ” (183, Walker). Dee is represented very differently from her sister and her mother and it is clear that their unique perceptions are purposely used by Alice Walker to represent conflicting views of heritage. This is played out through their relationship with the various items that are present in the family home. Whilst not of any financial value, the value that each of the characters places upon them is of significance. The quilts can be used as an example of this.
Despite the fact that they have no monetary value to speak of, each daughter would like to have them. Dee sees them as something that she can display in her city residence. They act as a mechanism through which she hopes she can show off her African background to her family and friends. For Maggie, they are everyday objects that she needs to use to survive whilst living in her current circumstances: “there are no real windows, just some hole cut in the side with rawhide holding the shutters up on the outside” (Walker, 90). Despite their tatty appearance, the quilts are still of use to her in keeping her warm.
Mama sees even further into the quilts, for her they represent her past and hold valuable memories of her family: “In both of them were scraps of dresses Grandma Dee had worn fifty and more years ago. Bits and pieces of Grandpa Jarrell’s Paisley shirts. And one teeny faded blue piece, about the size of a penny matchbox, that was from Great Grandpa Ezra’s uniform that he wore during the Civil War’ (Walker, 93). The quilts represent the history and heritage of the family and the struggles they have endured and overcome in order to survive in their current state.
However, through the actions of Mama when she gives the quilts to Maggie, Alice Walker demonstrates her belief that heritage isn’t something to preserved and worshiped as something of the past. It is a living, breathing element of life as it continues to develop and flourish; not in Africa but in present day USA. In Roselily, the writing is structured entirely around the thoughts of the protagonist and she goes through the wedding ceremony. She is looking to her heritage, and her past, in order to make sense of her present and what may become of her in the future.
Although the wedding and accompanying issues pertaining to women and their relationship with men takes forefront, the story also contains strong messages about the history and heritage of afro-American women. The story takes place at a time where the rights of blacks and whites in America were considered to be equal. Walker, however, does not seem to be in agreement with this and Roselily’s thoughts and stories clearly depict the lives of black women as being slaves to both men and to the system.
For Roselily this is captured by her arduous work in the sewing factory and the many unsuccessful relationships she has had. Despite the civil rights movement she remains a substandard citizen, there appears to be no equality for African-American women. Whilst Roselily yearns for something better for herself and her children, she does not know how this can be achieved, “Her place will be in the home he has said, repeatedly, promising her rest she had prayed for. But now she wonders. When she is rested, what will she do? ” (Walker, 1). Her situation can be seen to be reflective of the turmoil of her ancestor’s past.
Her recognition that she needs more but her inability to recognize how she can achieve this is reminiscent of the black civil rights movements and the plight of the black people in their inability to recognize how they have a presence in America whilst maintaining their history and who they were. Whilst the men of this society seem to have achieved their objective of freedom and rights, the women are still struggling and fighting wars of their own. Both Roselily and Everyday Uses can be seen as representative of Alice Walker’s view of what it is to be an African-American.
She believes that to be such to be to be both African and American: “to deny the American side of one’s heritage is disrespectful of one’s ancestors and, consequently, harmful to one’s self”. (White, 2001). In Everyday Uses Dee sees her African background as something that can make her American self more interesting and appealing to her peers and friends. Her sister, on the other hand, is concentrated on the here and now. She can recognize all too well the struggles of the past and wants to utilize as something she can build upon in order to survive the future.
In Roselily the negative impact of the consolidation of Africa and American traditions upon African American women is represented and is more vividly portrayed. Roselily is a women whose past means that she is unable to see a future for herself that doesn’t depend upon the economic support of a man. The fact that the man to whom she is married remains unnamed throughout the story clearly reflects Alice Walker’s concerns lie firmly with women. References: Walker, Alice. In Love & Trouble: Stories of Black Women. New York: Harvest Books, 2003. White, David. “White.
A“Everyday UseA”: Defining African-American Heritage.. ” Luminarium: Anthology of English Literature. 3 Apr. 2009 <http://www. luminarium. org/contemporary/alicew/davidwhite. htm>. White, Evelyn C.. Alice Walker: A Life. New York: W. W. Norton, 2005. Wood, Kerry Michael. “Literary analysis: African-American women and heritage in Everyday Use, by Alice Walker – by Kerry Michael Wood – Helium. ” Helium – Where Knowledge Rules. 3 Apr. 2009 <http://www. helium. com/items/1229309-conflicting-notions-of-afro-american-heritage-reflected-in-everyday-use-by-alice-walker>.