What is Dee's idea of heritage in the story "Everyday Use" by Alice Walker?   

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scarletpimpernel's profile pic

scarletpimpernel | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Dee's idea of heritage involves things.  In contrast, Maggie's and Mama's idea of heritage involves people.  Dee wants the quilts and anything else that she thinks she can connect back to her African or early American roots to display or show people.  When Mama asks Dee why she wants the quilts, she tells her that she wants to "hang them" and says with disgust:

"Maggie can't appreciate these quilts! . . . She'd probably be backward enough to put them to everyday use. . . . They're priceless! . . . Maggie would put them on the bed and in five years they'd be in rags. Less than that!"

For Dee, things such as clothing, name changes, even boyfriend choice represent her heritage--her desire to "go back to Africa."  She does not realize that those things have nothing to do with who she was or who she has become.

For Mama and Maggie, their heritage is wrapped up in the people who created it.  Maggie wants the quilts because they represent not only the work of her own hands but also time spent with her loved ones--those who had gone on before her.  There is sentimental value to their heritage because of its personal connection to humans.  Dee's heritage is purely materialistic, and therefore, changeable.


favoritethings's profile pic

favoritethings | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

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Dee's idea of heritage is that it is something that is past, something to preserve by hanging it on the wall or doing "something artistic with it."  This contrasts Mama and Maggie's view of heritage: that it is something to be used today, something that is very much present, something we honor by keeping it alive and part of our lives.  Rather than hang the quilts on the wall, Mama and Maggie use them; rather than make a centerpiece with the butter churn top or dasher as Dee will do, they actually use them for the purpose for which they are intended.  Maggie knows how to quilt, a skill she has learned from her family, and she knows the stories that go along with all of the items Dee wants.  Telling the stories and maintaining family traditions keeps people who have passed on still with us, but Dee isn't interested in the stories because, to her, they are past.  She will preserve heritage, as an artifact, while Mama and Maggie live it.

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