What is the theme of "Everyday Use" by Alice Walker?

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favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One major theme of this story is that one's heritage is meant to be used and made a part of daily life, not preserved and put on a shelf or a wall.  Although mama and Maggie still regularly use their butter churn, Dee wants to take the dasher and the churn top as souvenirs of her heritage.  She doesn't intend to use them, as she says, "'I can use the churn top as a centerpiece for the alcove table, [...] and I’ll think of something artistic to do with the dasher.'"  Dee happily takes the items that her family uses to prepare their food on a daily basis because they have been handmade by other family members, and she seems to want to have something to show off.  It's the same for the quilts.  Dee says that she wants to hang them on the wall when they've been promised to Maggie, and she says that Maggie would be "backward enough" to use them every day, as if that were the wrong thing to do with them.  Mama realizes how wrong, how selfish, Dee is, and it seems that we, the readers, are meant to as well.  Dee's idea of heritage is wrong, but mama and Maggie have it right.