Cultural Identity and Problems in “Everyday Use”

Alice Walker’s short story “Everyday Use” is a tightly woven tale that unites numerous diverse aspects of the story to reinforce the thesis advanced by W.E.B. DuBois that black Americans are caught in a double awareness in between their African heritage and their American citizenship. Walker’s story is about the bifurcation in between a mom and a daughter, in between America and Africa, and between the two cultures battling for one identity. Beyond the obvious identity confusion revealed in the character of Dee/Wangero, Walker imbues her story with meaning that indicates the general confusion of identity inherent in the African experience.

DuBois corresponds the experience of black America with aiming to create a particular consciousness out of an identity made up of dual viewpoints. DuBois composes that “One ever feels his twoness … 2 warring perfects in one dark body” (564 ). Walker’s story is about this war over identity and she extends it even to the meaning of the items that Dee wants. Dee urgently desires the butter churn and asks, “Didn’t Uncle Buddy whittle it out of a tree you all used to have?” The extremely reality that the churn was made from a tree, that its identity was created into something new based upon its labor worth from something that was naturally formed, is indicative of the pursuing a soul about which DuBois composes. However even beyond that, there is something more to the value of the churn. The wood that remained in and of itself something important and of value was fashioned into a butter churn, an instrument that takes one thing, milk, and transforms it into something else, butter. DuBois mentions combining without losing any essence, (565) and the butter churn is as excellent a symbol for that striving as any other product that may have been found in your home. For what is butter? Is it milk or is it something totally new? What is an African-American? Is he African or American or both? Can he be both? If butter isn’t still milk, then what is it? Walker takes this symbol of combining identities that derives from a system which is itself a forged tool, and declines to overplay it. Instead, she extends the metaphor even further by having Dee choose to take the churn leading and imbue with yet another identity. Dee maybe sees making the churn leading into a centerpiece as an emancipation of sorts; the churn no longer has to do work, it can become merely decorative. The churn turns one thing into another, simply as slavery turned Africans into Americans. However Walker does not stop there. Her usage of importance encompasses the primary object in the story.

What Dee has actually come for are the quilts made by her grandmother, quilts that her mother has actually promised to Maggie. These quilts, however more greatly stressed than the churn, are equally subtle signs of striving for identity. A quilt is by its very nature something with a double awareness. The quilt Dee wants particularly were constructed of parts of old gowns that her grandmother utilized to wear. The quilt, like the butter churn, is an utilitarian device. However, the quilt differs from the churn in that it is made out of pre-existing practical gadgets– the dresses– instead of something solid and independent in its identity prior to being made. Beyond that, naturally, is the truth that Dee does not desire the quilts for their desired purpose. When once again, Dee wants to take something that has an use and turn it into a decorative gadget. Dee’s desire to take simple tools and change them into something higher shows DuBois’ fight versus bias. DuBois writes that prejudice engenders self-abasement in the black individual. (567) The method to fight back against this self-abasement is by aspiring to culture. Dee considers herself as cultured, and beyond the abased quality of the lives lived by her mom and sibling. Maggie would have the temerity to use the quilts to keep warm. Dee acknowledges the true quality and value of the quilts. She will hang them on the wall. Taking something that has an usage and a function and utilizing it for something besides that function is the supreme achievement in high culture. For Dee, the quilts and her capability to utilize them for design rather than for heat represent her emancipation. That the quilts were as soon as parts of a gown used in the very first line of defense the cold-clothing-only serves to make them even more important. The symbolism of warring identities is highlighted throughout the story by Walker’s option of items wanted by Dee.

A lot more apparent than the symbolism of the products Dee wants in referral to DuBois’ theory of double consciousness amongst black Americans is Dee herself. In lots of methods, Dee is less a completely recognized character than she is a personification of the struggle for a unifying identity that DuBois so eloquently discusses. Dee is a character at war not only with her mom and her culture, however with herself as well. This schizophrenia is resolved by DuBois, a minimum of tangentially, when he blogs about “the concept of promoting and developing the characteristics and talents of the Negro, not in opposition to or contempt for other races, however rather in big conformity to the greater perfects of the American Republic.” At this phase of her life Dee has still not found out to accomplish this without contempt. Dee plainly shows contempt for her mother, her sis and their whole way of living. And yet she just as clearly hasn’t truly accomplished any real emancipation; she hasn’t accomplished a real consciousness of self. Dee implicates her family of not comprehending their heritage. She, in reality, returns house in order to retrieve these cultural artifacts which she thinks represents her heritage. However her designs and intents are anything however respectful of her heritage. In reality, she desires to put them on display in a manner that is truly not rather so different from the white capitalist capitalizing ethnic art work. Dee may have changed her name to the more African-sounding Wangero Leewanikia Kemanjo, however in truth she has actually become even more Americanized than her household. Mom and Maggie utilize the things of their heritage in obeisance to the heritage; that is, the quilts made out of old gowns were a need because they might not afford a new blanket or comforter. The heritage inherent in the gowns was passed onto the quilt; everything was utilitarian due to the fact that it needed to be. Either you made a quilt from your old dresses or you froze. That is heritage. Taking a quilt and putting it up on a wall is American waste as its most obvious. Dee might have become Wangero, however she just as well might have altered her name to JC Penney. Dee has actually successfully complied with the higher ideals of the American Republic as its even worse, however she has actually done so specifically in opposition to and contempt of her own race. Dee has actually not effectively discovered a single self-consciousness that integrates her American and her African parts; she rather has merely traded her African for her American. DuBois writes of blacks living a life in which they see themselves “through the revelation of the other world” and this is specifically what Dee does throughout the story. Dee can attain awareness only by comparing herself to what she was and her household still is, or versus what Hakim-a-barber claims to be. The truth that she is still waging the war to combine the 2 into one particular sense of awareness is made evident by the story itself. Dee’s go back to retrieve the products of heritage considered so important to her can be seen as an unconscious desire to recover her heritage and repair the split in her consciousness. While her preliminary intention might be to turn the churn top and the quilt into high cultural artifacts, she might likewise be attempting in a subconscious manner to come to terms the reality that she has yet to attain the singularity of consciousness about which DuBois writes.

Walker uses both characterization and meaning to accomplish a combined vision of the battle for identity and self-consciousness dealt with by blacks in Americans. Slavery brought individuals from Africa to America and turned them into tools of industrialism and since the struggle has been to achieve an identity that combines their lost heritage with their brand-new country. The problem has been intensified by the reality that a lot of the heritage enforced upon them in this nation has been as what they can do rather than as what they are. Walker effectively utilizes the meaning of everyday items for daily use to highlight this difficulty.