Cultural Identity - Sample Essay
The story has an underlying feministic weave. There is a noticeable lack of the mention of any father figure in the story and even the role of Dee’s companion, Hakim-a barber is minimized. “Everyday Use” makes no mention of a father for either of the daughters. The strength of Mamma is so compelling that it overshadows any need for a male in the house. This symbolically illustrates the black woman as the underpinning of the African American family.
The message is that black women have always been strong but have never asserted that strength. Mama describes herself as “a large, big-boned woman with rough, man-working hands. In the winter I wear flannel nightgowns to bed and overalls during the day. I can kill and clean a hog as mercilessly as a man” (Walker, “Everyday Use”) Mama’s upbeat self-image in spite of little formal education leads the reader to feel the intense pride she has in maintaining self-sufficiency. Mama does the hard work a man would, if he were around.
Mama is a feminist, not manifested by protesting for equal rights or male bashing, but by virtue of strong will and determination exemplified by doing what it takes to provide and care for the family. The male presence is absent from Mama’s home. The only exceptions are the memories of hand constructed household items. No mention is made of a father. He is absent in memory, financial support, nor is he even mentioned in the story at all. Walker’s story goes to great lengths to describe Dee’s outgoing personality, speech and her clothing and accessories.
Contrasting Dee’s outgoing personality is Hakim-a barber’s it minimized, when after arriving in the car his only words and actions are an attempt to explain and pronounce his African name and a feeble attempt to perform an unknown ritualistic hand shake. Hakim-a barber illustrates his lack of provider skills when he said “… But farming and raising cattle is not my style. ” (Walker, “Everyday Use”) He provides nothing of the daily substance required to feed or provide for a family (“Everyday Use. “) Alice Walker is intentionally vague regarding Dee’s, relationship with boyfriend / husband Hakim-a barber.
Hakim-a barber seems relegated to chauffer and conspirator enamored with the illusion of Black Power. Hakim’s character is shallow and without essence, thus relegating the male to a third class position in the family. This is likely a reflection of Walker’s disdain for the superficial actions of black men during the Black Power movement in the 1960’s. Although they go through the outward motions and threaten and shout, they still depend on the women as they always have. Walker infers that the women are the true source of inspiration and strength.
Finally, Walker imparts a third theme, which is that of cultural heritage and what it should mean to the African-American Black of the 1960’s and 1970’s. “Walker’s main purpose in the story seems to be to challenge the Black Power movement and black people in general, to acknowledge and respect their American heritage. ” (White, David) (“‘Everyday Use”: Defining African-American Heritage. “) The fact that Dee/Wangero has two names is a symbol of the young person’s confusion in the search for identity with a culture that is acceptable to them.
Since they are ashamed of their role in the American past, they attempt to throw off all reference to the Negro culture, in favor of the African culture, but neither seems to have total credibility. They do not understand the need to find the blend between the two in order to move forward. Mama struggles to decide which daughter should receive the family quilt. Quilts have a special symbolic meaning to Mama. When she moves up to touch the quilts, she is reaching out to touch the people whom the quilts represent.
On a deeper level, Alice Walker is exploring the concept of heritage as it applies to American blacks, particularly women. As in other works, Walker uses quilts to symbolize the ancient bond between women. In “Everyday Use”, the quilts serve the same function in this poor black family as the family paintings or photo albums might have in a white household. In the persona of Wangero, Dee strives to reject her American heritage and take on an African one, but in the persona of Dee, she wants to be like her white girlfriends and display her American heritage.
Mama sees hanging the quilts on the wall as Dee distancing herself from her true past. Mama cannot trust Dee to carry on the traditions established by past generations of family members. Walker weaves in her insights into African and American heritage to write “Everyday use. ” Finally, Mama realizes that her daughter Maggie has a closer connection with her view of family history than Dee does, and gives her the quilts, following her assertion of authority over Dee Dee takes pictures of her Mamma and sister Dee but is always using a backdrop of a cow or the poverty-stricken shack they call home.
This is indicative of Dee holding herself in a superior class of Black from her family. One can almost envision Dee passing the pictures around to her friends and saying, “See I achieved my status from such humble beginnings. ” Dee shows the extreme side of Black Civil rights, “Black Panthers” who reject their American culture, seeking to reinvent a heritage with proud African roots. That fact Dee is rejecting hundreds of years of her heritage, for one that is fabricated is disconcerting to Mama.
Dee projects so little insight to her American heritage that when asked what she would do with the family quilts she replies, It is clear from Maggie’s statement that her “everyday use” of the quilts would be as a reminder of her Grandma Dee. Dee’s primary use for the quilts would be to hang them on the wall as a reminder of her superior social and economic status. (White, David. “‘Everyday Use’: Defining African-American Heritage. ) This parallels her with middle class girlfriend’s family portraits hanging on the wall.
Dee will only observe her family heritage, but Maggie will ast as a cultural role model every day. Alice Walker is effective in weaving symbolism into much of her writing and “Everyday Use” is no exception. Walker possesses the ability to write on a multifaceted level that is simple but purposeful with profound underlying themes. Her style of writing allows her to convey her messages to her readers, each having the possibility of gaining as much as their intellect and backgrounds will permit. She avoids polarization, but challenges her literary audience with this symbolic writing style.
In addressing topics, that she is both knowledgeable and passionate about Alice Walker uses symbolism to address three issues: Racism, Feminism and the Search for Cultural Identity.
Alice Walker Biography The University of Texas at Austin [6 June, 2003] http://wwwvms. utexas. edu/~melindaj/bio. html Nama, Charles Aesthetic modes in Afro-American fiction. Kola, Autumn 2002 v14 i2 p51 (9). InfoTrac Web: Expanded Academic ASAP Brookhaven College Library, Farmer Branch, TX Electronic Collection: A94126706 Copyright (c) 1995-2003 by Pearson Education, publishing as Longman Publishers http://infotrac.galegroup.com/itweb/brookhaven_col