Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use”: How Change Can Affect Generations


In the recent years, most particularly the last three decades, mankind has seen the entire planet imminently launch into the future right before its eyes. Many argue about whether this has benefited the well-being of humans or depleted it, and alongside huge technological advancements have come movements looking to drive so-called “ancient” philosophies and ideologies into extinction. One side views the other as arrogant, entitled, smart-alecs who shame them for their beliefs while the other looks at them as old, oppressive, ignoramuses who refuse to accept “progress”. 

In Alice Walker’s Everyday Use, the simplest version between the clash of two generations can be seen between the mother and her daughter Dee (the young lady who wants to be called Wangero as a way to represent her “heritage”), who both vie for Maggie to accept their viewpoints on life. No man can tell another man how to live, and one is not fit to be human when he/she imposes their beliefs on another; though change can be effective, it can also be detrimental to society.

The quilt in Everyday Use can be seen as the main identifying mark of culture in the passage, and many have differing views on it. Some say that the quilt is a symbol of family values, but others, like Sam Whitsitt, author of “In Spite of it All: A Reading of  Alice Walker’s ‘Everyday Use’”, says that the quilt is representation of an old societal construct, the belief that men are better than women. In his analysis of Everyday Use, Whitsitt makes the definitive statement, “The quilt ‘represents’ herstory, history, and tradition, binding women , and men, to the past…” (455). After giving the backstory on the mother’s conflict with Dee and Maggie being in the middle of the dispute, Whitsitt comes to a conclusion that the quilt is there to inform readers of ancient philosophies and beliefs. While this may seem far-fetched, considering the fact that the matter that Dee and her mother are disputing over is what should be done with quilts, there is a growing population today that wants to believe in the so-called oppression of women in  society. This is a popular belief in the modern-age and not only in America, but it has spread throughout the entire globe. But Whitsitt is not done and he goes to explain his point, stating, “Men wanted women literally to sew only figures, and many critics today, both male and female, literally want women to sew figuratively” (455). This statement is factually true, particularly historically in British societies where only males got to be in positions of power while their wives were relegated to being second-class citizens just tagging along. 

Other instances can be seen in shows like The Waltons or Little House on the Prairie, in which the men aren’t oppressing women, but there are roles that are imposed on both males and females, and if one does not take the role on, he/she is ostracized and isolated from society as a result of beliefs being imposed.

Change is sometimes good, but most tend to overlook the negative aspects of change. The negative side of it is perfectly represented in Everyday Use concerning Dee’s character, and the relation of it to the African-American community. David Cowart elaborates on this in his analysis of the same story in “Heritage and Deracination in Walker’s ‘Everyday Use’”, in which he explicates Dee’s character by saying, “Thus Wangero thinks she is Signifyin(g) on white culture when she revises her name, but inadvertently she plays false with her own familial culture”(181). This is a profound revelation on what Dee (Wangero) is doing; Dee has taken pride in changing the “slavemaster’s” name to a supposedly African name, but she does not realize the history that is behind her original name, a name her mother gave her in honor of her aunt. This is a breaking point and it is one of the first instances in which the reader sees the ridiculousness of Dee’s way of going about her appreciation for her heritage. She changes her name oblivious to the familial value, and thinks she is justified in her ignorance. 

Dee comes off as snobbish and her absence of knowledge in this case puts the spotlight on her arrogance. Cowart, after addressing this moment of shame, asks the reader, “Wangero has realized the dream of the oppressed: she has escaped the ghetto. Why, then, is she accorded so little maternal and authorial respect?” (172). Dee seems to have the same problem most successful people have, and that is ungratefulness. Most, in particular minorities, escape obscurity placed on them by the majority and break into prosperity. But when one starts off in humble beginnings and suddenly, his life changes for the better, he quickly forgets the important things in life like family, humility, and hard work. It is easy to become snobbish and arrogant once one has made it to the top, parents work to provide their children with a dream they can attain, then they attain it, then they spit on every ounce of sweat and tears that the parents have put in to make it possible. 

Progress sounds like a good thing, right? Everyone seems to want to change for the better, to revolutionize the world and make an impact for generations to come. But the minds of many have become corrupted with the desire to change everything and the never-ending quest for a utopia has put everyone in a craze, disrupting peace. Most modern movements have shamed people for having ancient beliefs and condemned them for being quote-on-quote “oppressive”. Others have spent their lives resenting those who want to make improvements or change the way cultures are defined, instead of trying to understand the reasons for such. The solution is simple: all have to find common ground, men must not continue to war against each other. If there must be such a thing as progress, it has to benefit all people, it has to fight for the rights of everyone, it must refrain from the constant condemnation and villainization of other groups, and appreciate and respect the beliefs of others.