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Everyday Use

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"Everyday Use" by Alice Walker is a story that illustrates a young black woman's quest for identity that would encompass her culture, her heritage as well as her present status. Identity crisis is not a major issue for those who have lived and breathed the culture of their ancestors. But for those American children, who through either slavery or immigration, left their own culture and heritage behind and were raised in a very new social environment may find it extremely difficult to develop an identity which would encompass both their past and their present reality.

The two main characters that help Walker illustrates the issue of identity more effectively are Dee and her mother. While mother represents old values, culture and heritage, Dee symbolizes the modern, materialistic way of life. What is even more interesting is the conflict that ensues from Dee's modern adoption of her culture and mother's simple yet deep unostentatious respect for her heritage.

From the very onset, we notice marked differences between the personalities and appearances of the two women which illustrate the difference in their point of view on culture. Mama was "a large big-boned woman with rough man-working hands" (485) who presenting a list of her skills said, "I can kill and clean a hog as mercilessly as a manÐ'...I can work outside all day, breaking ice to get water for washing. I can eat pork liver cooked over the open fire minutes after it comes steaming from the hog. One winter I knocked a bull calf straight in the brain between the eyes with a sledgehammer and had the meat hung up to chill by nightfall." (485) Dee on the other hand was delicate with lighter skin and softer hair. Her feminine appearance was in stark contrast to mama's rough image which also accentuated their differences on various issues.

Dee was also less sentimental than her family about family possessions unlike her Mama who couldn't understand why Dee wasn't bothered by burning of their family house: "Why don't you do a dance around the ashes? I'd wanted to ask her. She had hated the house that much." (486) But while she is not sentimental about things that matter to her Mama, she seems to believe that it is through materialistic possessions and tangible things that she could assert her cultural identity.

This was a problem that arose in 1960s when Black movement was at its peak. The younger generation of blacks felt that the only they could establish their identity was through things, like dressing up a certain way, speaking in a certain manner etc. However what the older generation knew about the worth of heritage had somehow escaped the youth. The elders felt that adoption of culture and heritage made more sense when it had an impact on a person's way of thinking and their lifestyle.

Dee, with a more modern approach towards heritage, felt an identity based on it could be adopted with the adoption of Ð''things' connected with her ancestors' culture. For example, at one point, she decides to change



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