Art should be an active and important part of one s life, not merely something that is to be displayed and observed at a distance from time to time. Alice Walker s short story Everyday Use depicts quilts as a form of artistic work to portray the importance of art being a living and breathing part of the culture from which it arose. The origin of the quilts in the short story symbolizes the history of the family and the cultural values the family represents.
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, about the size of a penny matchbox, that was from Great Grandpa Erza s uniform that he wore in the Civil War (1). The quilts are heirlooms literally, but they are a representation of the family s growth and importance in history. The confrontation that occurs in regard to the quilts exemplifies the importance of understanding art beyond its visual perception. Dee covets the quilts to be priceless, she only appreciates them for their financial and aesthetic value. She becomes angered when she realizes the quilts have been promised to her sister; Maggie She d probably be backwards enough to put them to everyday use (1). Indeed, this is the manner in which Maggie views the quilts, she values them for what they mean to her as an individual. This is supported by her remark, I can member Grandma Dee without the quilts (1) she implies her emotional and personal attachment to the quilts. Further, Maggie understands the importance of the quilts to be kept alive and the necessity of renewal, hence her ability to quilt.
The two sister s values concerning the quilts represent the two main approaches to art appreciation in our society. Art can have a monetary value or a sentimental value. When the narrator, Mrs. Johnson, the mother snatches the quilts from Dee and gives them to Maggie, Walker is explicitly expressing that the expressive value of art is of primary importance. For art to be kept alive it must be put to everyday use, and remain connected to the culture from which it originated in a personal and emotional manner.