What is Dee's attitude toward her heritage compared with the attitudes of her mother and sister in "Everyday Use"?

In the short story "Everyday Use" by Alice Walker, Dee's attitude towards her heritage differs from the attitude of her mother and sister because she views her heritage from the perspective of education and relative wealth. That's why she can look on everyday objects as mementos and works of art. On the other hand, Mama and Maggie see their heritage from a practical standpoint.

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The primary difference between Dee's attitude and her mother and sister's attitudes can be summed up in Mama's simple statement that "Dee wanted nice things."

Mama describes Dee as someone with a strong, sometimes antagonistic personality who seems to have forged her sense of identity in opposition to her mother. What Mama values, Dee rejects. What Dee embraces, Mama either does not understand or—more tellingly—Dee does not permit her to understand. This is illustrated by the way Dee insists on reading aloud to Mama and Maggie "without pity," as Mama says. Dee wants to display her education but at the same time to exclude her family from it. Mama says of Dee, "[she] pressed us to her with the serious way she read, to shove us away, like dimwits, at just the moment we seemed about to understand."

Dee wants nice things, and she wants those things for herself.

This has been her approach to the world her whole life, so it is not surprising to Mama that Dee applies that same approach to her heritage as a Black woman from the American South. Dee doesn't want the rough-and-ready truth of her upbringing, with Mama's large, work-calloused hands, her slow-witted sister, Maggie, or the tumbledown house she grew up in. Dee wants to transform her heritage into something beautiful with inherent meaning that outsiders will instinctively appreciate.

She comes to Mama to pick and choose those parts of her heritage that best serve her purpose. Just as she did with her education, Dee seems to flaunt her "superior understanding" of her family's heritage while at the same time trying to cut her mother off from it. Dee doesn't want a quilt because it is a quilt; she wants a quilt to hang up as an artwork. She wants to transform Mama and Maggie's life into a quaint cultural tableau which she can show off to others with pride—and to deny her mother and her sister the opportunity to actually live their experience.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on October 8, 2020
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In the short story "Everyday Use" by Alice Walker, there is a clash of attitudes towards heritage between the narrator, who is referred to as Mama, and her daughter Dee. The story tells of a visit Dee makes to Mama and Dee's younger sister, Maggie. Dee has been gone a long time, and when she returns, she is relatively affluent compared to her mother and sibling. She has on a long bright dress, gold earrings, and bracelets, and she and her boyfriend drive up in a car. She informs her mother that she has changed her name to Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo, because she doesn't want to be "named after the people who oppressed [her]." She enjoys Mama's cooking and then gives her attention to household objects. She admires them not for their practical value but because they are unique mementos of the past.

In Dee's attitude towards her name, her clothing, and the objects she admires in the house, we can understand her attitude towards her heritage. Her attitude differs from that of her mother and sister mainly due to her education and her relative wealth. She reveres her heritage, but she is able to see it in the perspective of history. Her mother and sister are poor and uneducated and forced to live in poverty because of generations of oppression and discrimination. Dee has managed to rise above the poverty and lack of education, so she can see the hand-carved kitchen implements and hand-sewn quilts as elegant reminders of a rich cultural heritage.

On the other hand, Mama and Maggie continue to view their heritage from the perspective of poverty and a lack of education. For them, butter churns are for making butter and quilts are for keeping you warm when you sleep. They see their heritage from a practical standpoint.

In fact, both of these attitudes towards heritage are valid. If Mama and Maggie were educated and affluent, they would probably also see their old quilts and furniture more as mementos and not as items for everyday use.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on October 8, 2020
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The character of Dee, or Wangero, in Alice Walker's "Everyday Use" does not quite accept who she really is or where she really comes from. Instead, she has turned her heritage into a montage of artistic, historical, and eclectic nothings that make up a brand new idea of what she feels is the African heritage.

Coming from a poor family of sensible means and living the reality of being a minority, one would think that Dee would use her new-found position in society and her education to expand upon what she knows, and make her heritage be well-known.

Contrarily, she adopts a new name loosely based on her heritage, "Wangero", and she looks around her mother's house for objects that look colorful or traditional enough to make some silly "collection". The objects for which she looks around the house, such as the family quilt, mean a lot to the family in terms of , like the story's title says, everyday use. To Dee, however, these objects represent more gadgets that she can use to claim a culture that she has poorly re-created and renamed for her own pride and ridiculous ego.

Therefore, when Dee confronts her mother and sister saying that they do not really know about heritage the way that she does she is absolutely wrong. The "heritage" that Dee aims for is one she can turn into a pop-icon. Something aesthetic and tragic at the same time. That is not the reality of culture: You are who you are and you live through the hardships that come with your heritage. If your people are oppressed and treated unfairly, your job is to fight against injustice and move forward.

What Dee actually does is going backward. She is hiding the truth of her heritage: The pains, the tears, the blood shed in the past. She turns her heritage into an idealistic cloud where only that which is beautiful or grave can exist. Like the saying goes, if you do not accept your past you cannot embrace your future. Dee has very little future because she is basing her persona in something that, really, does not exist but in her imagination.

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