“Everyday Use” is a short story written by Alice Walker where she introduces a black family from sometime in the mid 20th century exploring the concept of heritage. Mama and Maggie embrace their heritage while Dee has thrown away a part of her heritage. She wants more than what her family can provide and leaves the household to go to college. When she visits her family, her understanding of her heritage changes. While Mama and Maggie view of their heritage are in their application to their everyday lives, Dee views their heritage on its use as memories of the past akin to that of art pieces.
Walker shows one concept of heritage in her descriptions of Mama and Maggie. Mama says she is a big-boned woman with man-working hands. She can be like a man in the way she dresses, looks, and acts. Likewise, Maggie has burn scars on her arm and legs and does everything she can to hide them. Both Maggie and Mama are uneducated. Maggie is affected by the fire that gave her her burns into being more mind mannered and shy.
Maggie understands the connection to her heritage is burning with the house. Maggie knows how to quilt because she was taught by her family, just like Mama. Through these descriptions, Walker gives a sense of poverty but also shows that the lessons taught to Mama and Maggie by their ancestors are what keep them alive. Mama and Maggie are proud of where they come from and the fact that they are keeping the traditions alive through their everyday lives.
Dee, however, has rejected her heritage from the beginning. Dee always wants nice things, remarks Mama. She wants nice clothes and shoes. She just looked on as the first house burned. Dee felt no connection to the house as part of her heritage and was glad to watch it burn. Dee also rejects her heritage by rejecting who her mother is.
Mama explains that Dee wants a mother who is more feminine. Dee does not appreciate the knowledge of her past that is embodied through her mother. At the first chance Dee gets, she goes to college to separate herself from her family and circumstances. Ironically, the money to send Dee to college is raised through one of those traditions, church. Dee does not realize nor cares about the significance of this act as part of her heritage. Dee has finally gotten away from the family and the traditions she hates.
When Dee returns home, she has developed a new sense of heritage. She takes pictures of Mama, Maggie, and the house. The house that she hates has now become a focal point for her. At dinner, Dee is excited about the food Mama prepares. Dee is intensely interested in the benches her father has built and the origins of an old dasher and turn-top. Dee now seemed to embrace the heritage she so quickly distances herself from in the beginning. She gives a sense of appreciation for the family and traditions she hated.
Even though Dee seems interested in her heritage, Mama realizes that Dee is still distancing herself from the family and the true meaning of her heritage. When Dee first returns home, she informs Mama and Maggie that she has changed her name to Wangero because she didn’t like being names by the people that oppressed her. Mama tells her that the name Dee can be traced back through the family tree, but Dee ignores her. By changing her name, Dee feels connected with her African roots. However, she is also disconnecting herself from the roots of her family. Dee’s interest in Mama’s everyday items of the dasher and turn top is purely artistic.
The final fight happens when Dee takes family quilts from a trunk. Mama tells Dee she has promised the quilts to Maggie as a wedding gift and Dee becomes enraged. She tells Mama that Maggie does not understand the value of the quilts and that Maggie would use them every day. Mama tells Dee that that is what they were made for. Dee, however, would just hang them on the wall, but that would just turn them into art. Mama has a discovery as Maggie walks into the room. She tells Mama that Dee can have the quilts because can quilt and remember her grandmother without them.
Mama understands that Maggie is the one that has a real meaning of their heritage. Maggie knows how to quilt because her family taught her. Maggie knows the tales behind all of the things they use. Maggie is the one that understands that heritage is not just objects, but memories and history. Mama reinforces that Maggie would get the quilts. Dee ironically tells Mama and Maggie that they do not understand their heritage. Dee leaves while hiding her face with sunglasses, therefore putting on a false facade about who she really is.
Through “Everyday Use”, Alice Walker gives the definition of the word “heritage”. Heritage is the memories and the skills people have inherited from their family and ancestors. Heritage is really the everyday use of the things that are passed down. Dee embodies the opposite of heritage, which is to art to be showcased. Heritage is something that is to past down. Mama realizes this in the end and sees that Maggie is the future of their heritage.