Individualism is the central aspect Alice Walker focuses on in her story “Everyday Use.” The plot revolves around two sisters Maggie and Dee. Even though their mother raised them the same way, they grew up with opposite opinions, beliefs, and views about their life. The author uses symbols such as the yard and the quilts to convey these differences.
“Everyday Use” is about the two generations of women, the mother and her two daughters represented by the quilts (Harris 32). The family has a strong generational connection, but it can be easily broken. For example, when Dee comes back home, the link no longer exists because she does not understand the history of her elders (Walker and Christian 71). When Aunt Dicie and Mama were making quilts and could bond over them, Maggie and Dee could not talk to each other at all (Harris 29). Also, Dee cannot form an attachment to the quilts because she does not understand the importance and the legacy her name has (Walker and Christian 58).
Moreover, the quilts are small parts of living history or documentation of history in the form of fabric that signify how past generations’ lives were. They are made of the clothes worn by their ancestors. The quilts remind the current generation of the challenges that the former cohort endured, such as poverty and war (Harris 45). The quilts are a testament to the pride and struggle that the family of Mama has possessed for decades (Walker and Christian 113). Mama was denied a chance to receive education partly due to the chains of poverty that tied her life, meaning that she values her personal history than anything else (Walker and Christian 92). In the short story, it is clear that the house of Mama contains many handicrafts that she received from the members of her extended family. Furthermore, Mama did not get an inheritance regarding money but the quilts that she treasures. According to Mama, the quilts have a value that Dee does not understand despite confessing that she will preserve them, and later fails to deliver on her promise.
Therefore, in the story, quilts are employed to paint a picture of the African American past, and as such, they serve as a symbol of the ties of heritage and unique culture in which Mama was brought up. Quilting is part and parcel of the American black population’s culture, passed down from one generation to another. Notably, as the story develops, we realize that there are many patterns of the quilts that Mama and Dee do not seem to agree on. For example, the quilts’ makers have used different types of designs to show their unique attributes compared to other treasures. There are at least a couple of dresses that Granny Dee used to wear about fifteen decades have elapsed (Walker and Christian 106). Additionally, there are pieces of Grandpa Jarrell’s Paisley shirts and a bit of Great Grandpa’s uniform, which he used to put on during the Civil War (Walker and Christian 61). It is an indisputable fact that the materials used to make the quilts are no longer available in the market, meaning that their value is unreproducible by famous manufacturers.
Symbolism is portrayed in the book by the use of the yard, which belongs to Mama. Here it represents the private and unrestricted life that Mama enjoys at the expense of the regrets and challenges she has been through. Surprisingly enough, the yard appears in the first and last sentences of the story to connect the events that unfold. It is worth noting that the yard has been prepared for the forthcoming of Dee. Mama is overly concerned with the general outlook of the yard, putting more emphasis on the wavy patterns that they make in the dirt as they were trying to make it look appealing to the eyes (Walker and Christian 43).
Mama humorously praises the yard’s specifications and the luxurious parts associated with it, which she compares with a living room of an extended wealthy family (Walker Christian 77). Here, the outside of the house represents freedom from many sufferings. On the other hand, inside of the home denotes restraint and some level of discomfort. The heated debate on who will possess the quilts occurs in the house where various articles arouse Dee to remember about her past. However, the yard is an easy escape where Mama can spend her time without having any regrets in mind. For her and Maggie, the yard stimulates a sense of safety where they can exercise some control over the environment.
The book “Everyday Use” by Alice Walker has employed symbolism from the beginning of the story to the very end. The quilts are used to show the African American cultural heritage. Moreover, they are employed to denote the characters’ differences, such as Mama and Dee, who view the quilts differently. The yard has also been used to show how Mama enjoys freedom from the chains of regrets. They symbolize how many people in society treasure freedom.
Harris, Trudier. “Alice Walker’s “Roselily”: Meditations on Culture, Politics, and Chains.” Southern Quarterly, vol. 54, no. 2, Winter2017, pp. 28-48.
Walker, Alice, and Barbara Christian. Everyday Use. Rutgers University Press, 1994.