Different generations often have different views on life and family traditions. Sometimes children may oppose parents ideas, and vice versa. When that happens, one can experience a clash of values when one party does not understand the other. It can be seen in the short story by Alice Walker called Everyday Use. The author described a typical African American family of 1970s. The story emphasized on the importance of family values and traditions. Respecting family traditions and being true to ones heritage is not a mere showing-off ones background, but being able to appreciate things that truly matter to ones family.
Interestingly, Walkers story shows the lack of such appreciation. It describes the visit of an older daughter to her mother and a younger sister. Older daughter, named Dee, comes with her husband; she is confident, well-educated and speaks about priding her own African heritage. Mother and young sister Maggie feel intimidated by Dee, and they feel like she does not understand what her heritage is all about. When Dee tries to take away family quilts, mother realizes that she should not give them to her, but rather to Maggie who can pass on family traditions. The story ends with Dee storming out, and Maggie getting the quilts. It shows the true values behind this African American family because formal praising of ones heritage is pointless when one loses a sense of the family, which is exactly the case with Dee.
The conflict in the story is due to Dees misunderstanding of values. She states that she has changed her name because she did not like the first one, since it connected her with her nations oppressors. Mother contradicts her daughter, stating that she was named after some relative in order to create long and strong bonds between family members. Here, one can see that Dee totally misunderstands what it takes to pride ones heritage. She wears a bright dress and specific hairstyle in order to show where she comes from, but she does not even know her own familys history. Thus, she cannot be considered a true follower or protector of her heritage. She is simply showing off her descent in order to create a specific image around her, but she is not honest to herself or her traditions.
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Another example can be found in the fight over quilts. Dee wants them since she finds them to be a representation of the culture she belongs to. She wants to place them as a totem so quilts will not be used, but rather looked at. Dee thinks that this way she will protect and pride her heritage by giving it a special treatment.
Nevertheless, quilts are not something that should be taken away from everyday use. Their traditions lay in the fact that they are used daily by every family member and passed from one generation to another. Traditions in this case mean the ability to appreciate what was done by ancestors, and produce something similar. Thus, Dees desire to hang quilts and not use them out of respect is actually quite opposite to the respect in the first place.
In this situation, Maggies character is much more valuable. It is true that she is not educated and feels very insecure and shy around other people. She is rather intimidated by her big sister who is superior to her both in looks and intelligence. Nevertheless, Maggie is the one who is able to appreciate family traditions. She wants quilts in order to use them daily, unlike Dee. Readers can see a great irony in Walkers work. The author states that Maggie can quilt, and that is why she deserves to get family quilts. By this, Walker implies that Maggie can actually pass on family traditions to the next generation, unlike Dee who has a formal, far from practical, approach toward her heritage.
The scene when Dee argues about getting quilts shows a clash of values. Mother, who was also intimidated by her daughters intelligence and confidence, finally realizes what was bothering her all that time. She understands that Dees interest is a fake one and has no practical implementation, since she is not a true bearer of family traditions. One cannot deny the fact that Dee is African American and grew up in this environment, but her long absence and lack of communication with her family made her forget what cherishing traditions meant. Dressing up like Dee did does not prove anything; any white could do the same in order to show his or her support of African American movement. Such act does not prove anything because it has no connection to the real life events. People like Dee thought that they were doing many great things for African Americans since they idealized Africa, a land of their heritage. Nevertheless, that Africa was a mere dream which had no connections to the realities of the epoch and society people were living in. African Americans like mother and Maggie thought little about Africa or links between it and their family. They rather focused on links between previous generations that used to live in America, and whose legacy Mamma and Maggie were carrying on. Their view on traditions was rather down-to-earth and realistic, since they unconsciously understood that they were the ones representing the traditions.
Walker is very ironic about people who lack a deep understanding of heritage. Dee is an example of opposing forces. She states that she represents African Americans, but she is actually running from her heritage. She associates herself with unknown Africa, but separates herself from her family and background. This is a dilemma of African Americans who, in striving to escape prejudice and poverty, risk a terrible deracination, a sundering from all that has sustained and defined them (Cowart). Dee may even be ashamed of her Mamma and Maggie since they both are uneducated women who are far from Dees ideals.
Walker created a realistic situation which was quite common at that time. Even now, such things happen when children misunderstand what it means to carry on familys legacy. Walkers style is bright and easy to read. She uses humor in her work; it is especially seen with Mammas dialogues. She pronounces some words incorrectly or uses the wrong ones instead. She also jokes with her son-in-law whom she finds a little awkward.
This literature piece is memorable and affects readers strongly, making them think about their own heritage. Some literary critics state that Walkers writing is the same as quilting she describes in her novel. Just like quilting allows passing traditions to the next generation, Walkers writing passes her knowledge and memories to the readers (Whitsitt).
Thus, Walkers powerful, yet clear style creates a vision in readers minds. They see the world from Mammas point of view. Hence, the reality may be subjective and simplified according to mothers beliefs and thoughts, but it allows relating to the characters in the story. Dialogues are filled with humor, irony, and they are just like any other real-world communication, which makes readers believe in it. The setting is very ordinary; the author does not provide readers with some unique place. On the contrary, Walker wants to make it look like daily events in a typical family when a daughter who was absent for a long time finally comes to visit. It is something that many Americans throughout the country experience nowadays; and it does not matter whether they are blacks or whites because they may feel misunderstood by their children just the same. The plot is constructed in such a way that imagery (such as Mammas dream about reality show) is strongly connected with the reality. Language, which is often funny since Mamma uses slang and incorrect words, creates an irony.
To sum up, one should state that this story is about seeing the truth behind a person and his or her heritage. By the end of the novel, mother is finally able to realize how superficial Dee is, and Maggies deep-seated understanding of heritage" (Tuten). Dees showing off has nothing to do with real life. Dee was not, and could not be, a bearer of traditions because she missed the main point of respecting ones legacy. In order to respect ones legacy, one has to understand it and pass it to the next generations by ones practical example, not by formal appraisal. Thus, in order to pass traditions, one has to relate to them closely. It is something that Walker encourages readers to do by respecting their heritage and following the traditions in everyday life.