Literary Analysis: The Importance of Heritage in "Everyday Use"

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About this sample

About this sample


Words: 678 |

Page: 1|

4 min read

Published: Jan 25, 2024

Words: 678|Page: 1|4 min read

Published: Jan 25, 2024

Table of contents

  1. Symbols of Heritage
  2. Character Conflict
  3. Conclusion
  4. Works Cited

Alice Walker's "Everyday Use" is a narrative of a rural African American family struggling to understand their heritage. The Johnson family embodies the conflicts and struggles of African American families to retain their culture and values. The story involves Dee, an educated girl who goes to visit her mother, Mrs. Johnson, and Dee's sister, Maggie. Walker's use of character conflict and symbols illustrate the importance, and fading nature, of the perception of heritage in modern times.

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Symbols of Heritage

Walker uses symbolism to show Mrs. Johnson and Dee's different views of heritage. Even though both are from the same socio-cultural background, their motives and understanding of heritage are different. In one scenario, Dee admires a churn top and asks her mother if she can have it. 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." (p.31). It is clear that Dee cherishes the tool and identifies it as part of her heritage, but her plan to use it as a centerpiece for her alcove table is contrary to Mrs. Johnson's views, who uses it as a tool to churn butter. The churn top is a symbol of Mrs. Johnson's and Dee's differing perceptions of heritage.

Walker's use of symbolism is evident when Dee goes through her mother's truck and emerges with two quilts. The quilts were made of different parchments worn by their relatives since the Civil War. Dee borrows the quilts, but Mrs. Johnson reminds her of her promise to leave them to Maggie, and instead offers Dee other quilts. Dee insists and says, "Maggie can't appreciate these quilts…She'd probably be backward enough to put them to everyday use." (p.130). Dee tells Mrs. Johnson that she plans on hanging the quilts on the wall. This implies that Dee's perception of heritage is that it is artistic and tangible. Maggie tells Mrs. Johnson to give Dee the quilts stating that she can "remember Grandma Dee without the quilts" (p.131). It becomes apparent to Mrs. Johnson that Maggie truly values their heritage, and her knowledge of knowing how to knit quilt affirms that she understands that heritage is made up of knowledge and memories, not tangible objects.

Character Conflict

Finally, Walker uses character conflict to show the differences of how Mrs. Johnson and Maggie understand heritage, and how Dee perceives it. Mrs. Johnson is described as "a large, big-boned woman with rough, man-working hands" (p.11). She is a hard working woman and proud of her efforts in the homestead. Similarly, Maggie works hard, having learned how to knit quilts from Grandma Dee's teaching. Mrs. Johnson remarks that Maggie's eyes "seem stretched open, blazed open by the flames" (p. 25) — in reference to the burns that affected her early in her childhood. Mrs. Johnson understands that Maggie's heritage is connected with the burning house, and her scars are part of it. It is evident that both Mrs. Johnson and Maggie are self-sufficient and are in touch with their traditions. Dee, on the other hand, is out of touch with her heritage completely. She changes her name in her attempt to identify with her African origins, which she knows nothing about. Furthermore, the fact that Dee just watched the house as it burned to the ground might suggest that she does not identify the house as being part of her heritage.

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Walker uses character conflict and symbolism to show the importance of heritage in "Everyday Use." Mrs. Johnson and Maggie's representations as down-to-earth, hardworking people, reveal that they identify with their heritage and where they come from, unlike Dee's attempt to change her appearance and name. Additionally, Dee's efforts to turn valuable house tools and items into artifacts make it clear that her understanding of heritage is different from her mother and sister's understanding. Walker employs literary devices to show how heritage can be viewed and perceived so differently.

Works Cited

  1. Walker, A., & Christian, (1994). Everyday use. New Brunswick, N.J: Rutgers University Press.
  2. ZHANG, Y. (2008). Analysis of the Characters in Alice Walker's" Everyday Use"[J]. Journal of Hubei University of Education, 9.
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Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

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Literary Analysis: The Importance of Heritage in “Everyday Use”. (2024, January 24). GradesFixer. Retrieved April 13, 2024, from
“Literary Analysis: The Importance of Heritage in “Everyday Use”.” GradesFixer, 24 Jan. 2024,
Literary Analysis: The Importance of Heritage in “Everyday Use”. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 13 Apr. 2024].
Literary Analysis: The Importance of Heritage in “Everyday Use” [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2024 Jan 24 [cited 2024 Apr 13]. Available from:
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