Alice Walker in “Everyday Use” shows one African American woman trying to “overcome” her past. This story is about two sisters, Maggie and Dee, and their mother. Maggie lives with her mother while Dee has moved out, gone to school, and created another life for herself. However Dee has issues left to resolve before she can become the woman she wants to be. Her conflicts over her heritage have made Dee unable to accept her past life and ashamed of her family. Dee uses separation strategies of changing her name, changing her view of family antiques, and physically moving away to convince herself that she is better than her family.
Dee has turned her back on a part of her past and her family by taking the name of “Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo” (177). Her reason for changing her name was because she “couldnt bear it any longer being named after the people who oppress me” (177). It is as though she would rather claim the name of an unknown slave to that of her aunt and grandmother. Dee by changing her name she can no longer be associated with her old name and family.
One of Dees motivations in returning home is to retrieve a few articles from her “heritage.” She uses a Polaroid camera to capture pictures of her mother and sister. That Dee “never takes a shot without making sure the house is included” (177) implies that she wants to be able to capture her former life on film. Dees main goal is to show how far she has come from her roots. Dee does take some family heirlooms and plans to “make something artistic” (179) out of them.
She is unable to accept these artifacts as they are; she feels she must change them to fit into her new life. The other object that Dee wants are some quilts that Dee refused to accept when she first left home that are now promised to Maggie. Dee originally turned the quilts away because they would have been a reminder of the life she was trying to forget. Dee now wants them because she can wave them like a banner, to let everyone know what she has overcome to become the person she now is.
Dee also uses physical distance to separate herself from her family. At first this is used when Dee leaves home to go to school (175). Then later Dee writes a letter home including, “no matter where we [Maggie and their Mother] choose to live, she [Dee] will manage to come see us. But she will never bring her friends” (176). This tells Maggie and her Mother that they can not depend on Dee to provide for them and that she is ashamed of them. Dee thinks that she and her friends are better than her family.
Dee spends so much time separating herself from her poor beginnings that she is unwilling to see the love she is missing out on. Her mother even talks about how she wishes that she would be reunited with her daughter on a talk show and that she would look in a way that Dee would wouldnt be ashamed of (174). Dee, while interacting with her family even goes as to say:
You ought to try to make something of yourself, too, Maggie. Its really a new day for us. But from the way you and Mama still live youd never know it. (181) She is judging herself to be superior to her family. Dee is afraid that she will end up like her family so she tried to change everything about herself.