Alice Walkers Everyday Use and Individual Identity Essay

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Preserving Family Traditions and Cultural Legacies:

Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use” and Individual Identity

In Alice Walker’s short story “Everyday Use,” the conflict between a desire for personal fulfillment and the need to honor one’s tradition is dramatized in the conflict shown between two daughters, Maggie and Dee. Maggie has never had a desire to leave home and seems content to live with her mother. Mama is a woman who has grown up poor, tough, but also very deferential to white people, because of the profound societal injustices she has endured. “Who can even imagine me looking a strange white man in the eye? It seems to me I have talked to them always with one foot raised in flight, with my head fumed in whichever way is farthest from them” (Walker 1). In contrast, her other daughter Dee is brave, goes away to college, and seems to have a confidence her sister lacks. But this comes at the cost of a break with Dee’s family. Even when Dee comes back to show appreciation for the African-American traditions she spurned in high school, she regards them as objects to be displayed for social esteem, rather than values their everyday use. However, it is important not to generalize Dee’s experience for all people, particularly today, where it has become easier for people to negotiate blended identities.

It is true that overall, the Walker story does not paint a very hopeful picture of the ability to preserve cultural traditions and move forward in society, despite the fact that this is in many ways the American Dream. Dee initially views her family tradition and cultural legacy as something that inhibits the full expression of her sense of self. Once she loses this sense, she can never regain it, even though she tries to do so by framing her ancestors’ quilts. It is Maggie who retains the ability to make more quilts, despite the fact she is unlikely to ever get an education or move out of her childhood community.

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Walker portrays Dee as superficial and only interested in Afrocentric culture because liberal, college whites are now appropriating it in the wake of the Civil Rights movement, to seem cool. But on a personal level, I sympathize with Dee, because Maggie’s fear and lack of daring shows that simply replicating the traditions of the past is not enough. Dee’s struggle shows the challenges of negotiating a blended identity, one which I have personally felt myself as a multiracial individual who embraces many ethnicities within her family and life. Walker suggests that showing respect for her culture and heritage is merely Dee’s way of fitting into college and showing off in front of her new boyfriend. However, as an author Walker does not show much compassion for the difficulties Dee may be facing as an African-American who is the first child to attend college, perhaps in a largely white student body made up of people who are much more comfortable in an academic environment.

My father is Hispanic and my mother is Caucasian (French, German and Polish). They met one other while they were both serving in the United States Navy, working in the same job (electronic technician). Unlike Dee, neither of them ever felt that they had to choose between home and moving into a new future, and both of my parents seem comfortable in their cultural identities. My grandparents accepted my parents’ marriage with open arms. The U.S. Navy’s own culture was very accepting of diversity. Unlike Dee and her college environment, my parents were surrounded by friends who were accepting, and as long as people in the Navy worked hard, their background did not matter.

Walters’ story suggests that people who are trapped between two cultures like Dee have to put on a fake persona, like Dee uses her….....

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Works Cited

Kelley, Robin G. “The People in Me.” Colorlines (1999), 5. Web. 24 Sept 2018. http://harvey.binghamton.edu/~pgay/etext/The_People_in_Me.html

Rich, Adrienne. “Delta.” Poetry Society of America. Web. 24 Sept 2018. https://www.poetrysociety.org/psa/poetry/poetry_in_motion/atlas/Fresno/delta/

Walker, Alice. “Everyday Use.” Web. 24 Sept 2018. https://www.acpsd.net/site/handlers/filedownload.ashx?moduleinstanceid=6626&dataid= 60620&FileName=everyday_use_full-text.pdf

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