Example #1 – Essay on Alice Walker’s Everyday Use
Heritage is something that people see in various ways. When many people think of heritage they think of the past generation and where their family comes from. Other people place their heritage on the value of things, such as old quilts that are made from something sentimental.
In Everyday Use this is exactly how Maggie thinks of heritage. She wants the quits that were handmade out of her grandma’s dresses because to her that is a sign of her heritage. Alice Walker’s story is based on heritage. The narrator of the story has two daughters who could not be more different. One daughter, Dee, is beautiful and cares a lot about finding her place in the world, and about fashion. Maggie on the other hand is very practical. She does not see any reason…show more content…
Dee is the exact opposite because she places so much value on items. From a young age, she was very obsessed with fashion and her appearance to the outside world. When her house burned down she did not even seem concerned because she had hated that house. Her mom, however, would never want a house to burn down because to her it represented hard work and survival. She knew that her family needed a house to survive and she did not care how big it was, or what it looked like.
Because of the value, she placed on being in style when her mom offered her quilts that her grandma had made she did not want them because they were out of fashion. Ironically a few years later she wanted that same quilt because to her it seemed to represent her heritage that she tries so hard to get away from. “Identity was partly heritage, partly upbringing, but mostly the choices you make in life. ~ Bran” (Briggs) The choices that people make in their lives are what really affects the way that they see their heritage. “We do not have to be ashamed of what we are. As sentient beings, we have wonderful backgrounds.
These backgrounds may not be particularly enlightened or peaceful or intelligent. Nevertheless, we have soil good enough to cultivate; we can plant anything in it.” (Trungpa) Dee was ashamed of her background in this story, but she would never admit it. She tried so hard to get away from the life that she grew up with that she no longer identified her mom and sister with her…
Essay #2 – Family Heritage And Symbols In Everyday Use
One can find out about family heritage through formal instruction; in any case, genuine heritage is passed down from age through their narratives, pictures, and different collections that our families hold dear to their souls. In the short story, “Everyday Use,” by Alice Walker, she teaches us family heritage and symbols; what it is, and who can receive it. Two hands sewed quilts turn into the focal point of conflict in the story.
They are also used to symbolize the family heritage. A quilt is made up of events, circumstances, and influences that shape how one sees and responds to the world. In the story, Mama is the narrator who guides the reader through two different perspectives of her daughters. As the two sisters have diverse appearances and identities, they have an alternate point of view on heritage. Walker uses quilts to symbolize the heritage and describes the two girls’ views on quilts to show their perspectives on heritage. Many may question how can two young women from the same rich inheritance of family, history, and community be so different?
Initially, Dee’s point of view on family heritage is not the same as her sister. Whatever her family brings to the table is never enough. Dee is the older sibling, who has wandered from the world she experienced in her childhood, yet never felt apart. The story is set with regard to her returning home from college. Dee considers heritage as something that has extrinsic value. She trusts that the best possible approach to acknowledge and protect her heritage is to not place it into her regular everyday use, but rather to appreciate it and use it as an accessory. Such a thought is uncovered when Dee says, “Maggie can’t value these quilts! She’d most likely be in reverse enough to put them to regular use.”
When the mama asks Dee what she would do with the quilts, she says, “Hang them” (2378), which demonstrates that Dee thinks about the quilts just as tangible antiques. Moreover, the way Dee dress is different than her family. ” 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… ” Her hair, “stands straight up like the wool on a sheep,” (2379).
This is the manner in which Mama depicts her daughters’ new appearance. In spite of the fact that Mama does not dislike Dee’s new African style, she is not comfortable with it. Dee had taken on the task to flash her African roots while she failed to understand the true meaning of her heritage. Dee tragically believes that one’s heritage is something that one puts on to show. Mama does not show African fashion. In any case she knows the genuine significance of her heritage; something that Dee does not appear to get it. Through Everyday use, Walker conveys that culture and heritage are taught from one generation to the next and it is not suddenly acquired, and definitely it is not something that one suddenly puts on.
On the other hand, Maggie’s perspective on heritage is totally different than Deer. Maggie is the younger sister who never left home. The burning down of the house, her stuck-up sister, and society affect Maggie and makes her different from the other characters. Maggie was so damaged from her home torching that she turned into a timid and undervalued young girl. Maggie is for the most part saying “Uhnnnh” if anything at all through the story. Mom depicts Maggie as a young lady who “will stand pitifully… plain and embarrassed about the torch scars her arms and legs” from the fire, and who feels the second rate compared to Dee (2379).
These burns and scars that Maggie has might be the reason for her absence of information just on the grounds that she was embarrassed to be in the learning environment. Moreover, the minute Maggie opens her mouth around her sister, it’s just as Dee was there just to make her life more hopeless, making unforgiving and scornful remarks at Maggie ‘s every word. “Maggie ‘s brain is like an elephant ‘s, Wangero said (2380). After rummaging through Maggie ‘s trunk, Dee insisted that her mother let her take the quilts that were put away. Mama told Dee that she was saving them to give to her sister after she married but Maggie said, “She can have them, Mama, I can ‘member Grandma Dee without the quilts” (2381).
Family to Mama and Maggie is not just made up of tangibles. Maggie thinks of family heritage as an attachment to her ancestors. She believes the everyday use of the inherited materials, how much ever value they may retain, will keep her connected to her ancestors. She values the attachment to the ancestors more than the inherited material itself.
Walker compares Maggie with her sister, Dee, to show how society slanders African-American women as well as women in the 1970s. From the beginning of the story, Maggie is depicted as anxious, miserably remaining in the corner. Later she is portrayed as almost hidden from view. On a metaphorical level, Maggie is the image of the absence of power held in the 1970s for women. She is the exemplification of quiet women. In contrast, Dee is confident, she will look at you without flinching. She fills in as an image of the free, effective present-day women. Her confidence may put on a show of being arrogant, and an excess of pride. By differentiating Maggie and Dee, Walker is communicating the two sides of the women’s role during that time.
All in all, Walker gives the reader the strong impression that Mama has a special partiality for her oldest daughter Dee, and sentiment of disgrace for her youngest daughter, Maggie. As the story is being told, and eventually comes to its closing, Walker drastically changes the attitude of Mama toward both of her daughters, finally treating each girl as they truly deserve.
Walker’s character Mama gives the readers insight into the thoughts and feelings of a traditional African-American mother of the late 1960s to early 1970s. She has seen her two little girls transform into two altogether different women as they grew up from their childhood. Mama’s situation in the story is that of a solid parental figure, who has the responsibility of both mother and father for her family.
Alice Walker uses power throughout her stories in various forms. In her story, Everyday Use, the power of family, heritage, and culture are presented. The story is about a hardworking mother of two girls, Maggie and Dee. The mother does not have much in her simple life but she cherishes what is of importance in her life. A humble house and two daughters have brought this woman happiness.
The story opens with Dee’s return home from college. Dee returns home as Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo. She decided that she “couldn’t bear any longer, being named after the people who oppress” her. The mother feels that Dee changed her name without understanding the reasoning behind it. Dee’s name was actually passed down from her great-grandmother, giving it true meaning.
Culture is prevalent throughout this entire story. Dee wants to take home a few items that will enhance her apartment by appearing to be culturally oriented. She decides her grandmother’s quilts provide a strong tie to her roots. The following passage details just how Dee wants to relate to her cultural roots.
“No, ” said Wangero. “I don’t want those. The are stitched around the borders by machine.”
“That’ll make them last better, ” I said.
“That’s not the point,” said Wangero.
“The truth is,” I said, “I promised to give them quilts to Maggie, for when she marries John Thomas. She gasped like a bee.
“Maggie can’t appreciate these quilts! She’d probably be backward enough to put them to everyday use.”
The mother cannot understand why Dee wants to display the quilts that are used on a daily basis. The quilts are shown appreciation by being put to good use. The mother feels they are worthy enough to be given to Maggie as a wedding present.
Dee wants to take the quilts home for all the wrong reasons. Although the mother does not have much she is in complete control of her life. She is not content with the changes Dee has made in her life but accepts them. The mother knows her family history and is proud of it. She identifies with her cultural background by respecting it enough to not put it on display.
This particular feature of Walker’s story focuses on the meaning of heritage in our personal lives. Understanding our heritage and culture grants us a form of power. This power can be used in both positive and negative ways. Passing down cultural traditions from generation to generation can have a positive influence on our lives. We are able to identify with our past ancestors, our family, but most importantly with ourselves. Heritage gives us a form of identity; the power lies in the way we choose to use it.
Themes and Meanings
The central theme of the story concerns the way in which an individual understands his present life in relation to the traditions of his people and culture. Dee tells her mother and Maggie that they do not understand their “heritage,” because they plan to put “priceless” heirloom quilts to
“everyday use.” The story makes clear that Dee is equally confused about the nature of her inheritance both from her immediate family and from the larger black tradition.
The matter of Dee’s name provides a good example of this confusion. Evidently, Dee has chosen her new name (”Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo”) to express solidarity with her African ancestors and to reject the oppression implied by the taking on of American names by black slaves. To her mother, the name “Dee” is symbolic of family unity; after all, she can trace it back to the time of the Civil War. To the mother, these names are significant because they belong to particular beloved individuals.
Dee’s confusion about the meaning of her heritage also emerges in her attitude toward the quilts and other household items. While she now rejects the names of her immediate ancestors, she eagerly values their old handmade goods, such as the hand-carved benches made for the table when the family could not afford to buy chairs. To Dee, artifacts such as the benches or the quilts are strictly aesthetic objects. It never occurs to her that they, too, are symbols of oppression: Her family made these things because they could not afford to buy them. Her admiration for them now seems to reflect a cultural trend toward valuing handmade objects, rather than any sincere interest in her “heritage.” After all, when she was offered a quilt before she went away to college, she rejected it as “old-fashioned, out of style.”
Yet a careful reading of the story will show that Dee is not the only one confused about the heritage of the black woman in the rural South. Although the mother and Maggie are skeptical of Dee, they recognize the limitations of their own lives. The mother has only a second-grade education and admits that she cannot imagine looking a strange white man in the eye. Maggie
“knows she is not bright” and walks with a sidelong shuffle. Although their dispositions lead them to make the best of their lives, they admire Dee’s fierce pride even as they feel the force of her scorn. Taken as a whole, while the story clearly endorses the commonsense perspective of Dee’s mother over Dee’s affectations, it does not disdain Dee’s struggle to move beyond the limited world of her youth. Clearly, however, she has not yet arrived at a stage of self-understanding. Her mother and sister are ahead of her in that respect.
Style and Technique
The thematic richness of “Everyday Use” is made possible by the flexible, perceptive voice of the first-person narrator. It is the mother’s point of view which permits the reader’s understanding of both Dee and Maggie. Seen from a greater distance, both young women might seem stereotypical–one a smart but ruthless college girl, the other a sweet but ineffectual homebody.
The mother’s close scrutiny redeems Dee and Maggie, as characters, from banality.
For example, Maggie’s shyness is explained in terms of the terrible fire she survived: “Sometimes I can still hear the flames and feel Maggie’s arms sticking to me, her hair smoking and her dress falling off her in little black papery flakes. Her eyes seemed stretched open, blazed open by the flames reflected in them.” Ever since, “she has been like this, chin on chest, eyes on the ground, feet in the shuffle.”
In Dee’s case, the reader learns that, as she was growing up the high demands she made of others tended to drive people away. She had few friends, and her one boyfriend “flew to marry a cheap city girl from a family of ignorant flashy people” after Dee “turned all her faultfinding power on him.” Her drive for a better life has cost Dee dearly, and her mother’s commentary reveals that Dee, too, has scars, though they are less visible than Maggie’s.
In addition to the skillful use of point of view, “Everyday Use” is enriched by Alice Walker’s development of symbols. In particular, the contested quilts become symbolic of the story’s theme; in a sense, they represent the past of the women in the family. Worked on by two generations, they contain bits of fabric from even earlier eras, including a scrap of a Civil War
uniform worn by Great Grandpa Ezra. The debate over how the quilts should be treated–used or hung on the wall–summarizes the black woman’s dilemma about how to face the future. Can her life be seen as continuous with that of her ancestors? For Maggie, the answer is yes. Not only will she use the quilts, but also she will go on making more–she has learned the skill from
Grandma Dee. For Dee, at least for the present, the answer is no. She would frame the quilts and hang them on the wall, distancing them from her present life and aspirations; to put them to everyday use would be to admit her status as a member of her old-fashioned family.”
So these quilts, which have become an heirloom, not only represent the family but are an integral part of the family. Walker is saying that true art not only represents its culture but is an inseparable part of that culture. The manner in which the quilts are treated shows Walker’s view of how art should be treated. Dee covets the quilts for their financial and aesthetic value. “But they’re priceless!” she exclaims when she learns that her mother has already promised them to Maggie.
Dee argues that Maggie is “backward enough to put them to everyday use.” Indeed, this is how Maggie views the quilts. She values them for what they mean to her as an individual. This becomes clear when she says, “I can ‘member Grandma Dee without the quilts,” implying that her connection with the quilts is personal and emotional rather than financial and aesthetic. She also knows that the quilts are an active process, kept alive through continuous renewal. As the narrator points out, “Maggie knows how to quilt.”
The two sisters’ values concerning the quilt represent the two main approaches to art appreciation in our society. Art can be valued for financial and aesthetic reasons, or it can be valued for personal and emotional reasons. When the narrator snatches the quilts from Dee and gives them to Maggie, Walker is saying that the second set of values is the correct one. Art, in order to be kept alive, must be put to “Everyday Use” — literally in the case of the quilts, figuratively in the case of conventional art.
Alice Walker is using the quilts, and the fate of those quilts, to make the point that art can only have meaning if it remains connected to the culture it sprang from. Her story itself is a good example: Walker didn’t write it to be observed under a glass case, judged aesthetically, and sold to the highest bidder; she meant it to be questioned, to be explored, to be debated — in short, to be put to “Everyday Use.”
The short story Everyday Use is central in Alice Walker s writing, particularly as it represents her response to the concept of heritage as expressed by the Black political movements of the 60s. Everyday Use is found in Alice Walker s collection of short stories, In Love and Trouble, which was published in 1973 (Walker 73). This was in the prime of the Black Power ideologies when Black was beautiful, the Afro hairstyle was in fashion and Blacks were seeking their cultural roots in Africa, without knowing too much about the continent or the routes of the Atlantic Slave Trade (Williams 45).
I believe Dee has joined the movement of Cultural Nationalism. The Cultural Nationalists emphasized the development of black art and culture to further black liberation, but were not militantly political, like, for example, the Black Panthers (Macedo 230). The ideas of the Cultural Nationalists often resulted in the vulgarization of black culture, exemplified in the wearing of robes, sandals, hairspray natural style, etc (Cultural Nationalism 1-2).
The central theme of the story concerns the way which an individual understands their present life in relation to the traditions of their people and culture. Dee tells her mother and Maggie that they do not understand their “heritage,” because they plan to put “priceless” heirloom quilts to “everyday use” (Walker 78). The story makes clear that Dee is equally confused about the nature of her inheritance both from her immediate family and from the larger black tradition.
The matter of Dee’s name provides a good example of this confusion. Evidently, Dee has chosen her new name (”Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo”) to express solidarity with her African ancestors and to reject the oppression implied by the taking on of American names by black slaves. To her mother, the name “Dee” is symbolic of family unity; after all, she can trace it back to the time of the Civil War. To the mother, these names are significant because they belong to particular beloved individuals (Joy in a Common Setting 1).
Dee’s confusion about the meaning of her heritage also emerges in her attitude toward the quilts and other household items. While she now rejects the names of her immediate ancestors, she eagerly values their old handmade goods, such as the hand-carved benches made for the table when the family could not afford to buy chairs. To Dee, artifacts such as the benches or the quilts are strictly aesthetic objects.
It never occurs to her that they, too, are symbols of oppression. Her family made these things because they could not afford to buy them. Her admiration for them now seems to reflect a cultural trend toward valuing handmade objects, rather than any sincere interest in her “heritage.” After all, when she was offered a quilt before she went away to college, she rejected it as “old-fashioned, out of style (Joy in a Common Setting 1).
Yet, a careful reading of the story will show that Dee is not the only one confused about the heritage of the black woman in the rural South. Although the mother and Maggie are skeptical of Dee, they recognize the limitations of their own lives. The mother has only a second-grade education and admits that she cannot imagine looking a strange white man in the eye. Maggie “knows she is not bright” and walks with a sidelong shuffle. Although their dispositions lead them to make the best of their lives, they admire Dee’s fierce pride even as they feel the force of her scorn (Walker 75).
As Dee is rejected by the quilts, she storms out of the house without a word. As I read this, the question of why Dee only comes in order to get some of the family heirlooms and bring back with her Hakim-a-barber. Not only does she want the quilts, but she also wants Grandma Dee’s butter dish and Uncle Buddy’s churn. Dee does not come to see the house, Mama, or Maggie. When Dee leaves, she does not say good-bye but exits without a word. This is another insult to her family. By leaving without saying anything she is reinforcing all her action proved earlier in the story.
It is ironic when Dee states to her mama at the end of the story, “You just don’t understand.” “What don’t I understand?” Mama asks. Dee responds, “Your heritage.” Dee really thinks that she is more cultured than her family. She may be a rounder person, with more knowledge about different cultures and religions that she has learned in school, but she does not know as much of the family heritage as she thinks she does. Mama and Maggie, who are both less educated, know a great deal more about the family. At first glance one may perceive Dee to be more cultured about her family heritage, but with a deeper examination, one can see how what she does goes against and insult of her family and culture.
Dee follows the fashion, and right now it is in+ to celebrate the distant African roots. She has discarded her given name, Dee because as she says: “I couldn’t bear it any longer, being named after the people who oppress me”(Walker 76). She fails to understand that the name, Dee, also goes back several generations on the American continent and therefore is more part of her heritage than an adopted African name which does not even make sense.
The grandmother (sic!) in Everyday Use+ is amazed that Dee would give up her name for the name Wangero. For Dee was the name of her great-grandmother, a woman who had kept her family together against all odds. Wangero might have sounded authentically African but it had no relationship to a person she knew, nor to the personal history that sustained her. (p 14).
In addition to the skillful use of point of view, “Everyday Use” is enriched by Alice Walker’s development of symbols. In particular, the contested quilts become symbolic of the story’s theme; in a sense, they represent the past of the women in the family. Worked on by two generations, they contain bits of fabric from even earlier eras, including a scrap of a Civil War uniform worn by Great Grandpa Ezra.
The debate over how the quilts should be treated–used or hung on the wall–summarizes the black woman’s dilemma about how to face the future Williams (40-45). Can her life be seen as continuous with that of her ancestors? For Maggie, the answer is yes. Not only will she use the quilts, but also she will go on making more–she has learned the skill from Grandma Dee. For Dee, at least for the present, the answer is no. She would frame the quilts and hang them on the wall, distancing them from her present life and aspirations; to put them to everyday use would be to admit her status as a member of her old-fashioned family.
Dee, like many of us, spent her whole life building an intricate image to show to the world, constantly tweaking and fixing the details, until she fit into the role of the person she wanted to be. However, it was when she ventured from the true roots of her family that she began adopting a culture and set of beliefs that were never hers, to begin with. Still, it can be said that her intentions were generally good, as she was only trying to find her place to fit into the world. If she had only learned to take pride in the surroundings she was given, Dee could have found a greater amount of contentment within herself and her family (Macedo 85).
Taken as a whole, while the story clearly endorses the commonsense perspective of Dee’s mother over Dee’s affectations, it does not disdain Dee’s struggle to move beyond the limited world of her youth. Clearly, however, she has not yet arrived at a stage of self-understanding. Her mother and sister are ahead of her in that respect.
“Everyday use” by Alice Walker is a fictional story analyzed years over, in academic and professional circles from an initial collection of In live and trouble (Donnelly 124). The story is narrated from the first-person point of view (by a single mother, Mrs. Johnson) and dwells on the perception of two sisters regarding cultural artifacts (Wangero). Maggie has a shy personality but Dee is a representation of a pretentious native African identity.
Throughout the story, Walker develops a deep criticism of postmodern ideals through symbolism, with the story’s meaning going deeper than the surface analysis because even the title “Everyday Use” is a representation of whether cultural heritage should be preserved and used on an everyday basis or not.
The quilt is especially mentioned as a representation of culture and heritage, especially when Dee wants to hang the quilts: she has essentially removed the artifacts from their everyday contextual meaning and creates some form of symbolic representation of the quilts.
This study, therefore, identifies there points; in that, Walker seeks to convey the principle that art is a living and breathing part of its origin, a significant cultural possession, and a critique of the postmodern treatment of cultural art.
The story asserts that art should be valued in the context of its cultural and heritage origin. The quilt is strategically used in the story as a representation of cultural art and its existence has a rich cultural significance. The quilt is later depicted as inseparable from its culture because the historical trace of the quilt essentially represents the history of the Johnson family. Walker specifically says “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, that was from Great Grandpa Ezra’s uniform that he wore in the Civil War” (563). This shows that not only do the quilts represent the heirloom of the family, but they are a core factor in the family’s identity. The gist of this symbolism is that, not only is the quilt a representation of the Johnson culture but also an inseparable element from the culture itself.
How Mrs. Johnson treats the quilts shows that cultural artifacts should be treated as a significant cultural possession. Dee on the other hand views the quilts as financially and aesthetically valuable. When Dee realizes her mother intended to give them to Maggie; she exclaims that they were priceless.
Dee further adds that Maggie has the capability of wearing them every day, something that she did not think was right for the quilts; implying that she viewed the quilts as an object instead of an item that should be used on a daily basis. Some sense of individualism is also noted from Maggie’s perception of the quilt, RO because in her opinion, the quilts bore some form of personal and emotional significance, which became clear when she said, “I can member Grandma Dee without the quilts” (Walker 564).
Maggie, therefore, implies that she perceives the quilt from its deep family connection. Moreover, she understood the fact that the quilts ought to “stay alive”, generations on end, through continuous renewal. Walker even points out that “Maggie knows how to quilt” (Walker 564), implying that she had the cultural significance of the quilts at heart.
The representation of the two sisters’ attitudes and perceptions of the quilts is a critique of the postmodern treatment of ancient artifacts and the way cultural art is treated in today’s society. Essentially, Dee’s perception of art for its monetary value represents the postmodern view of art while Maggie’s perception of the quilt for its personal significance is a representation of the contemporary view of art.
The author however does not leave us in a huge dilemma of which perception is right because Mrs. Johnson snatches the quilts from Dee and gives them to Maggie thereby depicting the contemporary view of art as the right perception.
Walker’s literary piece is a good example of an educational piece that reflects the current perception of art, especially thriving in today’s commercially, oriented world. Basically art in its right form should be kept alive through generations on end in everyday use. This literally, “can be perceived”, through the short story, but should be perceived in a symbolic manner as a facet of conventional art (Factstaff 3).
Walker, therefore, shows that the true significance and meaning of art that can only be traced back to the culture or the root it came from. This is contrary to the postmodern use of ancient artifacts as an object to be observed, by future generations, as Dee tries to express. Walker, therefore, shows that cultural artifacts should be used as a significant cultural possession, and be kept alive through generations.
Moreover, she didn’t write the piece with the intention of being microscopically analyzed, or to be quantified monetarily; her literary piece, despite being written in past decades, was meant to be explored, investigated, questioned and even debated by today’s commercially driven society where culture is slowly fading away and postmodern values are quickly catching up (Factstaff 4). In summary, the author says that cultural artifacts with a special reference to the quilt should be put into everyday use.
Art is used, expressed, and described in many different ways. With her story Everyday Use Alice Walker uses quilts to symbolize art and discovers that art should be a living, breathing part of the culture it arose from, rather than a frozen timepiece to be observed from a distance. Although the story focuses on a symbolic piece of art it also involves the way in which an individual understands his present life in relation to the traditions of his people and culture.
From the beginning of the story, we see that Mrs. Johnson, who describes herself as a large, big-boned woman with rough, man-working hands (678). She enjoys a rugged farming life in the country and after her first house burned down moved to a small, tin-roofed house surrounded by a clay yard in the middle of a cow pasture. She has two daughters Maggie who is much like herself living at home and uneducated, and Dee who was destined to go out into the world to see change and to be changed.
Although Mrs. Johnson had two daughters, she places Dee her oldest daughter on a pedestal. She dreams about being reunited with Dee on a television talk show. During this time she would be ushered by a limousine and brought into a room where Johnny Carson shakes her hand and tells her what a fine girl she has (678).
Dee has always been scornful of her family s way of life. She hated the first house they lived in and was happy to see it burn down. Dee s contentment was so focused on the burning of her house that she was completely oblivious to the fact that her sister had been burned and scarred for life.
The selfish way Dee has behaved her whole life makes her visit home very ironic. She arrives home with a male companion, which leads the reader to believe they may be married. You advance to this conclusion because Dee has written her mother in the past telling her No matter where we choose to live, she, meaning Dee, will manage to come to see us. But she will never bring her friends (679). When Dee and Hakim-a-barber get out of the car she is strangely delighted by her old way of life.
After complaining for years about her family’s way of living she ironically jumps out of the car and takes photographs as if she missed the farm and appreciated every bit of it. To her mother s surprise, Dee claims she had changed her name to Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo. Mrs. Johnson is very disappointed because she had named her daughter after her sister. When asked why making such a big decision Dee states I couldn t bear it any longer, being named after people who oppress me (680).
During Dee s visit, she started to show the true meaning of her visit home. While examining different artifacts in the house Dee asks her mother if she could have the old butter churn so she could use it as a centerpiece for her table. This is completely ridiculous on Dee s part. She only wants the item to impress her peers. They have no sentimental value and she would probably not even know how to use it. After confiscating an item that Mrs. Johnson and Maggie still use, Dee had the audacity to make two quilts out of a trunk and expect to take them with no questions asked.
When Mrs. Johnson told Dee that she had promised them to Maggie Dee being the self-centered person she says, Maggie can t appreciate these quilts (682)! She d probably be backward enough to put then to everyday use (682)! This really bothers me because Dee was offered the quilts before she had left for college but they were not fashionable to her so she refused them. Now she has changed her mind and expects she can get whatever her heart desires. She is very immature in the fact that she has to put down her sister to make what she perceives is a good point.
Maggie, on the other hand, is a generous character she tells her mother she can have them, Mamma (682) offering to go ahead and give the quilts to Dee. In the Houston A Baker article, they quote Maggie is the arisen goddess of the Walker s story; she is the sacred figure who bears the scarifications of experience and knows how to convert patched into robustly patterned and beautiful quilted wholes (Baker 416). Maggie is the one true character in this story. Even though she has lived a sheltered and boring life she is smart. She is in a better off position than Dee and her materialistic images of life.
The quilts are the most important part of this story. The quilt as interpretive sign opens up a world of difference, a nonscripted territory whose creativity with fragments is less a matter of artistic choice than of economic and functional necessity (Baker 415). The history of these quilts is a history of the family. These quilts are a family heirloom, they not only represent the family, but they are an integral part of that culture.
Dee s confusion about the meaning of her heritage also emerges in her attitude toward the quilts and other household items. While she rejects the names of her immediate ancestors, she eagerly values their old handmade goods. To Dee, artifacts such as the churn or the quilt are strictly aesthetic objects. It never occurs to her that they, too, are symbols of oppression. Her family made these things because they could not afford to buy them.
Her admiration for them now seems to reflect a cultural trend toward valuing handmade objects, rather than any sincere interest in her heritage. Dee is a fashionable denizen of American s art/fantasy world. She is removed from the everyday uses of a black community that she scorns, misunderstands, burns. Certainly, she is unconventionally black (Baker 417).
The two sister s values concerning the quilt represent the two main approaches to art appreciation in our society. Art can be valued for financial and aesthetic reasons, or it can be valued for personal and emotional reasons. Neither of these ways is right or wrong, but in the case of this story, Alice Walker chooses to value the meaning of this story on a personal basis and expresses this form of art to be used as everyday use.