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    The Meaning of Heritage in Everyday Use, a Short Story by Alice Walker

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    In Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use”, a mother narrates her oldest daughter’s visit back home. After being away for what we can assume was a very long time, the daughter, Wangero (once known as “Dee”, but changed her name) is now rich and successful, wearing fancy clothes and a fancy hairstyle; she is almost an entirely new person. Throughout the entire visit, Wangero regards all of their items as if they were precious artifacts that should be preserved forever, because they are a part of their heritage. By the end of the visit, she tells her mother, “you just don’t understand… your heritage” before leaving: a harsh accusation, as well as a statement loaded with irony.

    Throughout the story, it is apparent that Wangero and Mama have conflicting ideas over what their heritage is. Mama looks at their family’s heritage, traditions, and culture that have been built by her family, while Wangero looks at their African heritage. Neither view is wrong, but that doesn’t stop the conflict from happening.

    Wangero thinks that Mama and Maggie, her sister, are rejecting and failing to recognize the importance of their heritage. This is shown during the quilt fight. Wangero wanted to keep the quilts that had been promised to Maggie, because they were made by their grandmother; she wanted to preserve their “heritage”, while Maggie would just use them like normal quilts. This, among other things, shows the main difference between their ideas of heritage.

    Wangero thinks the way to show her heritage is through the clothes she wears and the items she keeps. Examples of this are the the quilt debate, as well as her new African identity. She changed her clothes, hair, and even her name to something that she thought would help her hold on to her heritage. In doing this, she completely annihilated one part of her heritage: her childhood. In acquiring a new identity and becoming a new person, she destroyed who she was, and who her family knew her as. So, ironically, while living up to her heritage, she also destroyed part of her heritage.

    Another ironic aspect of this situation is how quick Wangero is to say that her family doesn’t understand their heritage. Wangero has destroyed part of her heritage by changing herself completely, and has the nerve to tell her family that they don’t understand their heritage. She does this in a few ways; first, she insults them by implying that she could make better use of their items by using them for decoration instead of their normal use. Then, she blatantly tells them that they don’t understand well enough to keep these items; Wangero says that Maggie doesn’t have the right to the quilts because she doesn’t understand their significance. This is ironic because they, in reality, are much more significant to Maggie than they are to Wangero because Maggie actually uses them every day.

    Overall, two different interpretations of heritage are shown in Alice Walker’s story, “Everyday Use”. One is shown in Wangero, who believes that saving and treasuring items increases their significance; another is shown in Mama, who believes that what makes items significant is how useful they are. In the end, Mma’s point of view wins when she gives Maggie the quilts to put to good use.

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    The Meaning of Heritage in Everyday Use, a Short Story by Alice Walker. (2022, Dec 13). Retrieved from https://artscolumbia.org/the-meaning-of-heritage-in-everyday-use-a-short-story-by-alice-walker/

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