Alice Walker usually puts herself into characters that she writes about in her stories. However, you don’t understand this unless you know about her. Staring with this let us find out about who she is and where she came from. When recounting the life of Alice Walker, you find out that she was born to sharecroppers in Eatonton, Georgia in 1944 and was the baby of eight children. She lost one of her eyes when her brother shot her with a BB gun by accident. She was valedictorian of her class in high school and with that and receiving a scholarship; she went to Spelman, a college for black women, in Atlanta.
She then transferred to Sarah Lawrence College in New York and during her time there went Africa as an exchange student. She received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Sarah Lawrence in 1965. She was active in the Civil Rights Movement of the 60’s and as of the 90’s she is still an involved activist. She started her own publishing company in 1984, Wild Tree Press. She is an acclaimed writer and has even received a Pulitzer Prize for the movie, The Color Purple. What is it about her that makes her works so meaningful and persuasive? What provoked her to write what she has?
One of her works, a short story called Everyday Use, is a story that she herself can be pictured in. During the opening of this story you find a woman with her two daughters. She and one of her daughters, Maggie, have just cleaned and beautified the yard of their new house. It is very comforting sitting under the Elm tree that is present and blocks the wind from going through the house. It is a place that you feel enveloped in comfort and love. Maggie and Dee, the other daughter are very different, and it is very apparent that mother, is not your everyday’ woman.
She, the mother, is “a larger woman that can kill and clean a hog as mercilessly as a man’ (American Lit, p. 2470). She has no problems doing what needs to be done in order to feed and protect her family. However, the daughters are quite opposite; you have the one, Maggie that has been badly burned and is much scarred, and then Dee, the African Princess want to be. Maggie is very envious of her sister and is waiting for the day that she leaves, to further her education. Mother only made it to second grade and back then there wasn’t much to say or do about it, so she settled with what she had.
Through the church they raised enough money for Dee to go to Augusta to school. It is here in the story, when Dee leaves that the meaning of Everyday Use is found. While Dee is gone Maggie and Mother are doing whatever needs to be done around the house, to survive. Dee would write every now and again, and told her Mother, no matter where she, the Mother, lived, she would always come and see her, but she wouldn’t bring any friends. Upon Dee’s visit, she arrives with a man that greets everyone, Asalamalakim, upon exiting the vehicle. Mother confuses this with his name and is very unsuccessful in trying to pronounce it.
She is told to call him Hakim-a-Barber. Her daughter Dee also tells her mother that she has changed her name and it is now, Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo. This name, Wangero, has a personal meaning to Alice Walker in the fact that while on her trip as an exchange student in Africa, the name Wangero is the name that was given to her while she was there. Moving to the trivial meaning of the short story, we later find Dee along with her mother, sister and Hakim, at the dinner table, having, none the less, pork. Hakim had stated that he did not eat pork and collards, yet Dee is more than happy to help herself to everything that is available.
While sitting at dinner, she sees the churn that is in the corner and states that she wants to take the top home and make it a center piece as well as she wants the dasher as well, the wooden rod used to make butter. She can do something fancy with it as well. She continues after dinner going through the house searching through some old belongings, and she finds some quilts. She tells her mother that she wants these and that she will hang them to show everyone. The quilts were hand crafted through the years by many family members. She said she is searching for her heritage and that she knows what to do with them.
Mother explains that she has already told Maggie that she could have them, and Dee is very infuriated and tells her that if Dee gets them she will probably “be backward enough to put them to everyday use” (Literature Book, p. 2474). Her mother hopes that would be the case because they have only been in the trunk for ever and it would be about time that they got used for something. Maggie attempts to tell her mother that it is OK, Dee can have them, she can remember her Grandmother another way, even though her grandmother is the one that taught her how to quilt.
Her mother immediately says that it is not for discussion, that the quilts belong to Maggie and that is all that needs to be said. If you take a look at the character of Dee, Wangero, you see a child, who has progressed to be a young woman that is very unsure of who she is and where she comes from. She returns home only to be something and someone that she isn’t with this Muslim man that she feels is her heritage. She attempts to find herself out on the road, at school and through this man, when the entire time the one that truly knows the answers, is Maggie.
She had been burned in the fire at the first house when it burnt down, oddly enough, Dee was the only one not scathed by the fire, and has never left her mothers side. Dee, who was named after her aunt, and it even goes back to her Great Grandmother and “even farther back several generations to the American continent” (Essay, p. 6), doesn’t even realize that her heritage is there, just in her name, not the one she chose for herself. She sees these quilts that have been made of old clothes and hand sewn by her ancestors and assumes that they should only be for display, not Everyday Use.
The central idea here is the celebration of the anonymous women who have been able to devise something beautiful and functional out of throwaways. The quilt is a central metaphor for an unrecognized female creativity. One critic said, “Art is made for everyday use, not for art’s sake” (Hoel, p. 16). Quilts show the way our lives were lived, that we survived on scraps and patches, the leftovers from the ancestors; we take what no one wanted and make it into something that is loveable and cherished. The heritage that you are looking for is probably looking you in the face. Look around you, discover what you know is there.
Remember what brought you where you are and how you got there. Your family is your heritage, no matter the consequences or heartbreaks that happen along the way. There is a reason for everything and it is only then that you can really say that instead of just showing off what you have received or found, put it to Everyday Use. It is everyday that we learn something new. When learning these things, use what you already know to lead the way for your followers to find what they are looking for, heritage is never far from anyone, as a matter of fact, it is instilled in everyone.