In the story Everyday Use, Alice Walker tells a tale of how a daughters idea of heritage is distorted by society, and how her true heritage lies within her family. Walker conveys this theme by narrating the story from what is apparent to be the mothers point of view of how Dee, the oldest of the two daughters, does not have a grasp of her true heritage. Dees idea of her heritage is clouded by her experiences away at school and her new friend Hakim-a-barber.
The real Johnson family heritage is evident in Ms. Johnsons detailed description of daily activities around the house. It is easy to picture Ms. Johnson in her day-to-day activities with descriptions of events being this graphic, One winter I knocked a bull calf straight in the brain between the eyes with a sledge hammer and had the meat hung up to chill before nightfall (131). The reader almost needs to reread her descriptions to make sure she is talking about herself and not some large male farm hand. Her description of herself further adds credibility to her being a real women of rural Georgia in the late 60s, In real life I am a large, big-boned women with rough, man- working hands (131). Ms. Johnson is obviously a woman of her time, and her youngest daughter Maggie is sure to follow in her footsteps.
While Maggie may be a shadow of her mother, Dee on the other hand is not. Dee would, however, like to appear to others as having this hard life background. Early on
Ms. Johnson knows Dee is going to be different. She explains some of Dees traits in an almost envious manner, She would always look anyone in the eye. Hesitation was no part of her nature (132). At times, Ms. Johnson seems proud of Dees differences, but also troubled at some of the things she does. From the time Dee steps out of the car and begins snapping photos of the house and animals, to the end of the story where she asks to take items from the house, Dee is looking for ways to give off the appearance of the heritage that she thinks she has. Early on Dee begins to try to set herself apart from the family and setting she wants to get away from, only to return later in efforts to try to falsely obtain her memories and traditions. Dees true heritage can only be found in her mothers memories and the traditions and culture that she passes down to Dee and Maggie.
Ms. Johnsons frustrations of Dees lack of respect and knowledge of her past shows in the conflict they have over the quilts made by relatives and Ms. Johnson herself. Dees intentions for the quilts were clearly just to use them as another symbol of the heritage she thinks she knows. This point in the story is also where the theme and the title for the story come together. The conflict begins when Ms. Johnson explains to Dee, The truth is, I said. I promised to give them quilts to Maggie for when she marries John Thomas (137). Not only does this upset Dee because she doesnt get what she wants, but she is also for the first time second to Maggie. The opinion of Dee and Ms. Johnsons on how the quilts are to be used is like a representation of the differences of what their heritage really is.
The struggle that Dee faces over her beliefs and those of others is one that everyone has to face at some point in their life. True heritage doesnt come from material things or positions, but rather the beliefs, morals, and way of life that is instilled by relatives and roll models in a childs life. This story shows how a small idea can have a great impact on ones life. The power of heritage cannot be overlooked or misinterpreted; it is what makes up the individual.