Everyday Use, by Alice Walker, which was published in 1973, is a very striking story which deals with themes such as cultural heritage, loyalty to your roots and “the American way of living”. The story is narrated by the mother, and takes place when Dee comes home to visit her mother and sister. Maggie and the mother sit and relax outside the small and plain house of theirs when Dee arrives, and Dee is reminded of how much she dislike the fact that her closest relatives live the way they do. She has taken the correct path, in her opinion, of obtaining an education and started living “the American Dream”, including the cultural melting pot and integration into the American society. Her sister and mother, on the other hand, still embrace the old fashioned way of life, without the constant time pressure, new and sophisticated computer technology et cetera. However, Dee does not entirely neglect her cultural background and heritage – she wants to show where her roots are from, but without actually having to use the traditions.
“Everyday use” was written in a time where the black population was getting a better position in the American society through the Civil Rights Movement. The opportunities were better for the black people to get an education and therefore getting more options with regards to jobs. In my opinion, Walker gives a good picture of how the new level of freedom and freedom of choice, made it hard to find the balance between being integrated into a new culture and keeping a part of your original background as well. She criticises how the American melting pot removes the distinctiveness of different cultural backgrounds, but at the same time I think that she tries to point out that there are no conclusive answer of what level you should be holding on to your heritage. The golden mean might just as well be the right answer, which neither Dee nor Maggie chooses. Following up this theme, Dee and Maggie contradicts each other to a certain level. While Maggie, on the one hand, chooses to use the traditions and the “old way”, she does not brag about it – she is more of a withdrawn and quiet person. Dee, on the other hand, wants to show her cultural background whenever she has the opportunity. She does not, however, want to use it on an everyday basis. In relation to this, I would also like to mention the fact that she is selective of how she presents her background. For instance, she refrains from using the name “Dee”, and prefers “Wangero” because of the fact that “Dee” connects her to the slavery of the black people. In fact, the purpose of her visit is to acquire several items which represents her culture so that she can put them on display. The problem is that the mother already promised them away to Maggie for her marriage. Dee is horrified by this thought, commenting that Dee only would wear them out. When questioned what she would use them to herself, she simply replies “hang them”. I think that comment is a humorous metaphor as to how Dee sees the “darker” sides of her cultural background. This is also reflected through the fact that Maggie is scarred from a fire when they were young, which Dee got through unharmed.
In the end, I think the story boils down to a question of identity. Your own background has the significance that you yourself give it. There are several ways to keep your background – by using it or showing it, even though one generally do both. I think there is a fun parallel to a Norwegian TV commercial for Wasa crispbread, saying “du blir hva du spiser” (you become what you eat), or in this situation – you are the person that you create through behaviour and actions.