Theme in Everyday Use Essay Sample
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- Category: culture
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Theme in Everyday Use Essay Sample
When coming to Black Culture, the American black people seem to be in a dilemma. Having inhabited in the New World for centuries, they have accepted many opinions that the white people hold, and in many ways they are exactly like the white people, except for the black color of their skin. However, the American black people do not completely forget their own culture, which, though, has been fading away through the long cruel slavery and the Americanization after. Since the beginning of the twentieth century, their awareness of their own culture has come to a new height. Many American black people change their names, turn to African clothes, event go back to Africa to seek their roots, to show their enthusiasm towards and understanding of their own black culture.
Meanwhile, many black people are thinking: How to understand black culture? Who can carry on the black root in the multi-cultural modern American society? Alice Walker, a genius black woman writer, answers in her story “Everyday Use”: understanding culture is never as superficial as changing for a cultural name or wearing cultural costumes; nor it is as complicated as knowing all the things about one’s own culture. It is something more and deeper, but simpler and more natural: to respect it, to take it as a part of life and way of living.
In this story, Mama, a black woman, the first person narrator, talks about her two daughters. Sister Dee is a beautiful, sophisticated college graduate, who lives a modern and successful life in the city. Mama, who has made Dee’s successful life possible, has stayed behind in the countryside with a younger daughter Maggie, who is a painfully shy, ungaining girl. Maggie and Mama are living in an old country life, which is sometimes favored by a whirlwind visit by Dee.
The theme of Everyday Use is successfully expressed in the dialogues between the characters.
‘Well,’ I say, “Dee”
“No, Mama,” she says “Not ‘Dee’, Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo!”
“What happened to ‘Dee’?”
“She’s dead,” Wangero says, “I couldn’t bear it any more being named after people who oppress me!”
“You know as well as me, you was named after your aunt Dicie.” I said. Dicie was my sister. She named Dee. We called her ‘Big Dee’ after Dee was born.
‘But who was she named after?’ asked Wangero.
“I guess after Grandma Dee.” I said.
“And who is she named after?” asked Wangero.
‘Her mother,’ I said, and saw Wangero was getting tired. “That’s about as far back as Ican trace it.” I said. Though in fact, I probably could have carried it back beyond the Civil War through the branches.
Mama’s sophisticated daughter Dee comes back home with a more African-like name -Wangero, because, she says, she could bear no longer her name like a name of white people, who oppress them black people. However, this more African-like name does not bring Wangero(Dee) true understanding of black culture. As we can see, she fails to realize her name ‘Dee’, which can be traced as far back beyond the Civil War, is actually cultural. Wangero(Dee) sees culture in a simple name form rather than its real cultural meaning. People like her, cannot truly appreciate their culture, even though they ostensibly show great enthusiasm towards their culture.
And there is another example to give a more thorough illustration to the theme.
When Wangero(Dee) knows those hand-stitched quilts have been promised to Maggie, she gasps like a bee has stung her.
“Maggie can’t appreciate these quilts!” she said. “She probably be backwards enough to put them to everyday use.”
“I reckon she would,” I said, “God knows I been saving’em for long enough with nobody using’em. I hope she will.”
“But they’re priceless!” she was saying now, furiously; for she had a temper. “Maggie would put them on bed and in five years they’d be in rags. Less than that!”
“She can always make same more,” I said. “Maggie knows how to quilt.”
Dee looked at me with hatred. “You just will not understand. The point is these quilts, these quilts!”
“Well,” I said, stumped. “What would you do with them?”
“Hang them,” she said. As if that was the only thing you could do with quilts.
Maggie by now was standing in the door.
I could almost hear the sound her feet as they scraped over each other.
‘She can have them, Mama’, she said, like someone used to never winning anything, or having anything reserved for her. “I can ‘member Grandma Dee without the quilts.”
Wangero(Dee) wants to take those quilts, because she thinks her mother and sister do not understand the priceless heritage. “Maggie would put them on the bed and in five years they’d be in rags” and she will ‘hang them’ to preserve and appreciate the priceless heritages. Who on earth really understands and appreciates the heritage and culture? People like Wangero(Dee) believe that culture means these heritages. They are basically wrong. Culture consists of far more important things than these visible heritages. It is one’s way of living, or rather one’s everyday life.
People failing to realize this point shut themselves outside the real meaning of culture, and what they try to preserve and appreciate is a museum rather than culture. On the contrast, Maggie, does not apparently show that strong interest in those quilts as Wangero(Dee) does, but she can quilt, she knows the use of these quilts: for bed not for being hung, and she can remember Grandma without the quilts. She compounds culture in her life and carries it on as she proceeds her life. Thus when she uses these quilts, stitches new quilts in her everyday life, she reviews culture, destroying the old, creating the new. Isn’t culture carried on in such process of constant destroying old and creating new? So only people like Maggie can arrive at the essence of culture and carry on the culture, for they know culture, fundamentally, serves and reflects everyday life.
Besides these well knitted dialogues, the theme can also seen in the description of the characters. Apart from the main characters, there is still another minor but important character in the story: Dee’s friend, a man called something like Hakim-a-barber. Alice Walker describes him like this.
From the other side of the car comes a short, stocky man. Hair is all over his head, a foot long and hanging from his chin like a kinky mule tail.
The short stocky fellow with the hair to his navel is all grinning and he follows up with, “Asalamalakim, my mother and sister.”
He just stood there grinning, looking down on me like somebody inspecting a Model A car. Every once in a while he and Wangero(Dee) sent eye signals over my head.
“You must belong to those beef-cattle people down the road,” I said, “They said ‘Asalamalakim’ when they met you, too, but they didn’t shake hands. Always too busy: feeding the cattle, fixing the fences, putting up salt-lick shelters, throwing down hay.” Hakim-a-barber said” I accept some of their doctrines, but farming and raising cattle is not my style.”
We sat down to eat and right away he said he didn’t eat collards and pork was unclean.
This man, from his appearance, looks very much like a traditional African man: the long hair, the long and complicated name, the words he uses to greet people and the way he greets people. But however much he makes himself look like an African and however much knowledge he shows about his culture, his failing to respect it expose he does not understand black culture at all. “I accept part of their doctrines, but farming and raising cattle is not my style.” His words obviously exude contempt to farming and raising animals, which, in fact, are the exact essential part of his culture to which he is trying to show his superior understanding, awareness and concern. Without doubt, he is just showing off his knowledge which means nothing when being separated from traditions, ideologies, all the real components of culture from which knowledge derives. People like him and Wangero(Dee) just want to impress others with their awareness and knowledge of their culture. Never can these people be the black root carrier.
Through the dialogues and description of characters, Everyday Use presents readers, not only the black people, an alarming theme about culture, leaving readers rethinking how to understand culture and redeciding their role in preserving and carrying on culture in the multi-cultural modern world.