In the story "Everyday Use," does one's "heritage" mean any less to the speaker and Maggie than it does to Dee?

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James Kelley eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I suspect that many people will answer this question with "No, quite the contrary. It means more to them." And they may be right, of course, but as I read the story, heritage is important to all of the characters in Alice Walker's short story "Everyday Use."

Heritage, as I see it, is the collection of stories that we tell ourselves about where we are from. There's no one right way to go about telling those stories. Maggie and the narrator seem to me to prefer focusing on stories that don't change the setting (the house, the immediate family, etc. all figure prominently) whereas Dee seems to me to prefer to create partially new stories that have settings that include (an admittedly mythical, pre-slavery) Africa, for example.

When I teach this story, I find my students often siding with the narrator and Maggie. I try to counter their initial reading, though, by asking them what's so wrong about trying to preserve a quilt rather than putting it to "everyday use."

Doug Stuva eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Walker's "Everyday Use" is about the different views of heritage the two sides have.  Though Dee certainly interprets the mother and Maggie as not thinking as much about their heritage as she does, they think about it, but in a different way.

Dee is living a new, nontraditional life, an urban black life.  She sees her heritage as quaint and artistic.  She wants "souvenirs" from her former house to display as works of art.  I suspect the mother and Maggie may see this as their lives being put on display, as if their possessions were to be put into a museum as something from an out of date past.

The mother and Maggie simply put their everyday things to everyday use.  Quilts are not so quaint when they're used to keep one warm.  Their heritage is also their present.  They live their heritage, one might say, instead of displaying it. 

Both sides value their heritage.  But they certainly value it in different ways.