Idealism And Pragmatism In Everyday Use By Alice Walker

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In the short story, “Everyday Use,” Alice Walker uses her contrasting characters of Maggie and Dee to show a cultural split. Dee, the eldest daughter, comes home to visit her family who lives a very traditional way of life. Dee has gone to college and lives a more modernist lifestyle, whereas her sister Maggie has not gone to school and lives a more traditionalist lifestyle. This difference between the sisters shows the division in the 1960s between a traditionalist and modernist lifestyle through the characters Maggie and Dee.
During the 1960s some African-Americans began to replace their birth names with names of African or Muslim descent, but what was the reason behind this change? In his article, “Destroying to Save: Idealism and Pragmatism
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Sarnowski describes Maggie by stating, “She ekes out an existence on the family farm and has neither the intelligence nor the physical attributes of Dee/Wangero” (Sarnowski 278). This statement shows that Maggie lives a conservative type of farm life, and due to this lifestyle, she is less intelligent than her sister. This statement also shows how the character Maggie is described in a sense as inferior to Dee because of her lack of education and physical attributes. Maggie’s traditionalist ways show, however, when she tells her mother, “"She can have them, Mama,” … "I can 'member Grandma Dee without the quilts"” (Walker 6). This shows that Maggie views the quilts as a way of remembering her deceased grandmother. It’s not as much about the physical looks of the quilt, but more about them being a passed down memento from her grandmother. In addition, Sarnowski states, “Losing the quilts would not extinguish or reduce Maggie’s sense of heritage, but it would rob her sense of heritage of an affirming token” (Sarnowski 280). Maggie knows what her heritage is and does not necessarily need the quilts to define it. She is happy with the life she lives and although she would be losing this “affirming token” she would still know where she comes…show more content…
This appreciation also leads to Dee changing not only her lifestyle, but several other things such as her apparel and name; which is described as “stereotypically African.” However, Dee’s new-found appreciation does seem, like Hakims, to be more of a fad. In Diane Ross’s article, “Everyday Use,” she states, “To Dee, artifacts such as the benches or the quilts are strictly aesthetic objects. It never occurs to her that they, too, are symbols of oppression: Her family made these things because they could not afford to buy them” (Ross 1-2). This shows, unlike her sister Maggie, Dee’s perception of the quilts are strictly aesthetic and artistic pieces that reflect African Heritage. Dee never considers they may represent oppression themselves and it makes her seem as though she wants them solely just to show off. In addition, Ross goes on to state, “Her admiration for them now seems to reflect a cultural trend toward valuing handmade objects, rather than any sincere interest in her “heritage.” After all, when she was offered a quilt before she went away to college, she rejected it as “old-fashioned, out of style” (Ross 1-2). This shows that Dee’s change to a modernist lifestyle was influenced through a cultural trend. This also alludes to when Dee rejected a quilt before she went to college, but now that she has discovered the cultural trend of college, she wants
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