“Everyday Use” by Alice Walker is the story of a mother and her two daughters, Dee and Maggie. The story focuses on Dee’s visit to see Maggie and her mother. Dee treats her mother and sister as if they are unaware of their African American culture, she remakes herself according to what is in style, and she treats objects of her heritage as if they are artifacts that should be displayed for others to see. Dee, the protagonist of the story, seems to be disconnected from her African American heritage.
Dee treats her mother and Maggie as if they are unaware of their culture when it is Dee who is really unaware of hers. Throughout the story, readers see that Maggie and Ms. Johnson embrace their heritage. They still churn butter and sit under the tree outside and dip snuff together, following the African American value of spending time with family. Ms. Johnson knows the value of the quilts that she and Aunt Dicie made and she plans to give them to Maggie when she gets married. The quilts are made of clothes from past relatives and serve as a symbol of their African American heritage. David Cowart points out, “Wangero fails to see the mote in her own eye when she reproaches her mother and sister for a failure to value their heritage–she, who wants only to preserve that heritage as the negative index to her own sophistication” (175). Dee is not proud of where she has come from. She sees her education and present standing in life as better than Maggies and her mother. Therefore, Dee should not accuse her mother and Maggie of not knowing their heritage because she is trying to run away from hers.
Dee remakes herself according to what is in style at the time. Dee follows the trends of many African Americans at the time and becomes a Muslim. Dee does not see herself as an African American anymore. She rejects her African American culture and tries to adopt an African culture which she can never be a part of. Dee now dresses according to the dictates fo a faddish Africanism. Dee has forgotten her heritage and now does what is in style. Dee also changes her name to Wangero. Wangero thinks that by changing her name, she is losing the oppression of white society. Her name, Dee is a part of her heritage. It is a name that has been passed down form generation t generation in her family. Dee sees this as unpopular and changes her name so that she will “fit in” with the modernized African American society.
Dee treats family heirlooms as if they are objects that should be displayed for others to see. Dee wants Ms. Johnson to give her a butter dish that belonged to her grandmother and the churn top. Dee also wants to frame the quilts that her mother has promised to Maggie as her dowry. Dee sees the quilts as a reminder of her heritage, but she does not see how she has belittled that heritage. The quilts are supposed to be used for warmth. The only significance of the quilts to Dee is their popularity, not the value of their history. Maggie knows the true value of the quilts and she wants to keep them.
Dee belittles her mother and Maggie, she lives according to what is in style, and she wants family heirlooms so that she can put them on display. Dee is truly unaware of her African American culture.