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Everyday Use Essay: Lost Heritage

Lost Heritage in Everyday Use

By contrasting the family characters in “Everyday Use,”

Walker illustrates the mistake by some of placing the

significance of heritage solely in material objects. Walker

presents Mama and Maggie, the younger daughter, as an example

that heritage in both knowledge and form passes from one

generation to another through a learning and experience

connection. However, by a broken connection, Dee, the older

daughter, represents a misconception of heritage as material.

During Dee’s visit to Mama and Maggie, the contrast of the

characters becomes a conflict because Dee misplaces the

significance of heritage in her desire for racial heritage.

Mama and Maggie symbolize the connection between generations

and the heritage that passed between them. Mama and Maggie

continue to live together in their humble home. Mama is a robust

woman who does the needed upkeep of the land,

I am a large, big-boned woman with rough, man-working

hands. In the winter, I wear overalls during the day.

I can kill and clean a hog as mercilessly as a man. I

can work outside all day, One winter I knocked a bull

calf straight in the brain with a sledge hammer and

had the meat hung up to chill before nightfall. (Walker


And Maggie is the daughter, “homely and ashamed of the burn scars

down her arms and legs,” (Walker 288) who helps Mama by making

“the yard so clean and wavy” (Walker 288) and washes dishes “in

the kitchen over the dishpan” (Walker 293). Neither Mama nor

Maggie are ‘modernly’ educated persons; “I [Mama] never had an

education myself. Sometimes Maggie reads to me. She stumbles

along good-naturedly She knows she is not bright” (Walker 290).

However, by helping Mama, Maggie uses the hand-made items in her

life, experiences the life of her ancestors, and learns the

history of both, exemplified by Maggie’s knowledge of the hand-

made items and the people who made them–a knowledge which Dee

does not possess.

Contrasting with Mama and Maggie, Dee seeks her heritage

without understanding the heritage itself. Unlike Mama who is

rough and man-like, and Maggie who is shy and scared, Dee is

confident, where “Hesitation is no part of her nature,” (Walker

289) and beautiful:

” first glimpse of leg out of the car tells me it is

Dee. Her feet were always neat-looking, as if God had

shaped them Dee next. A dress down to the ground

Earrings gold, too (Walker 291)

Also, Dee has a ‘modern’ education, having been sent “to a school

in Augusta” (Walker 290). Dee attempts to connect with her racial

heritage by taking

Comparing Love and Acceptance in I Stand Here Ironing and Everyday Use

Love and Acceptance in I Stand Here Ironing and Everyday Use

Tillie Olsen’s I Stand Here Ironing, and Alice Walker’s Everyday Use, both address the issue of a mother’s guilt over how her children turn out. Both mothers blamed themselves for their daughter’s problems. While I Stand Here Ironing is obviously about the mousy daughter, in Everyday Use this is camouflaged by the fact most of the action and dialog involves the mother and older sister Dee. Neither does the mother in Everyday Use say outright that she feels guilty, but we catch a glimpse of it when Dee is trying very hard to claim the handmade quilts. The mother says she did something she had never done before, “hugged Maggie to me,” then took the quilts from Dee and gave them to Maggie. In I Stand Here Ironing the mother tells us she feels guilty for the way her daughter Emily is, for the things she (the mother) did and did not do. The mother’s neighbor even tells her she should “smile at Emily more when you look at her.” Again towards the end of the story Emily’s mother admits “my wisdom came too late.” The mothers unknowingly gave Emily and Maggie second best.

Both mothers compare their two daughters to each other. In Everyday Use the mother tells us that “Dee is lighter than Maggie, with nicer hair and a fuller figure.” She Fahning -2-speaks of the fire that burned and scarred Maggie. She tells us how Maggie is not bright, how she shuffles when she walks. Comparing her with Dee whose feet vwere always neat-looking, as if God himself had shaped them.” We also learn of Dee’s “style” and the way she awes the other girls at school with it.

The mother in I Stand Here Ironing speaks of Susan, “quick and articulate and assured, everything in appearance and manner Emily was not.” Emily “thin and dark and foreign-looking at a time when every little girl was supposed to look or thought she should look a chubby blonde replica of Shirley Temple.” Like Dee, Emily had a physical limitation also. Hers was asthma.

Both Emily and Maggie show resentment towards their sisters. The sisters who God rewarded with good looks and poise. Emily’s mother points out the “poisonous feeling” between the sisters, feelings she contributed to by her inability to balance the “hurts and needs” of the two.

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