"You Just Don't Understand," She Said, As Maggie And I Came Out To The Car. Literature Review Samples
The short story “Every Day Use” by Alice Walker narrates the story of a small broken family whose problems go way far back than we are told. The text is narrated in first person by the mother of this family, we are thoroughly described through the text the way this woman looks and thinks. She is a husky woman, not quite feminine:
I can kill and clean a hog as mercilessly as a man. My fat keeps me hot in zero weather. I can work outside all day  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 sledge hammer and had the meat hung up to chill before nightfall  I am the way my daughter would want me to be: a hundred pounds lighter, my skin like an uncooked barley pancake. (Walker 1973).
We are also immediately presented with the main conflicts: Mama (as the mother is often identified) and her daughter Dee seem to have issues. They do not understand each other, Mama even mentions that they should probably be in one of those “TV shows rhere the child who has ‘made it’ is confronted, as a surprise, by her own father and mother” (Walker 1973). Mama and Dee have very different ideas about what their “heritage” should be. That is to say, to Mama their heritage is made of the things her family has left behind for them. Their heirlooms and how they are infused with the presence of their late family. To Dee it is nothing more than the object itself and the craftiness which with it was made. The quilts, not who made them. The way they were made not who left them behind for them to treasure.
This conflict is mainly created by Dee’s false understanding of what her “African” heritage implies. She has a twisted perception of herself and the oppression her family seems to be in. “"She's dead," Wangero said."I couldn't bear it any longer, being named after the people who oppress me."” (Walker 1973) She develops a construct of what she wants her heritage to be, and so she comes up with a new identity for herself: Wangero, in order to reject her present and her family. She dresses herself with “African” clothes and jewelry to relate herself more to this construct instead of her family. She has always considered herself different from her family, from Mama and from Maggie. By setting herself outside of her own story she manages to put some distance between her and her “embarrassing” family. A distance created by nothing more than her perception of her own superiority. Her attempt to hang the family quilts, like they would be hung in a museum clearly represents her feeling of being disconnected from the heirloom mentioned. The feelings of closeness they cause both Mama and Maggie are undoubtedly foreign to Dee.
When it comes to Dee, it appears that Mama has struggled a lot in order to give her an education, anyhow, this education has created a wedge between them. Her education proves to be not as beneficial at least for the family. Her education took the place her sense of belonging should have had. She leaves both Dee and Mama behind since she believes them to not be avant-garde enough, she fails to identify herself with them anymore:
I used to think she hated Maggie, too. But that was before we raised money, the church and me, to send her to Augusta to school. She used to read to us without pity; forcing words, lies, other folks' habits, whole lives upon us two, sitting trapped and ignorant underneath her voice. She washed us in a river of make-believe, burned us with a lot of knowledge we didn't necessarily need to know. Pressed us to her with the serf'ous way she read, to shove us away at just the moment, like dimwits, we seemed about to understand. (Walker 1973)
It is ironic how Dee passionately states that her mother and sister clearly do not understand her heritage.
"What don't I understand?" I wanted to know.
"Your heritage," she said, and then she turned to Maggie, kissed her, and said, "You ought to try to make something of yourself, too, Maggie. It's really a new day for us. But from the way you and Mama still live you'd never know it." (Walker 1973)
Because apparently it is not them who do not understand the reality behind their heritage, and their own identity, but her, who rejects her real past and is struggling to transform herself. She has been forcing herself to adopt all of the cultural implications that Africa has and yet she can achieve nothing more than a pitiful imitation of those.
While it is understandable that she wants more from her future given her education, and that she has a better understanding of the oppression racism has caused in her family. It is logical that she intends to pull herself apart from it. However, it is obvious she misunderstood, it is not her family she should distance herself from. It is the situation. She has lost her sense of self due to her education since she has an equivocal idea of what she should become. Unlike her, Maggie has hampered her own self-fulfillment. We find that the sisters are latched to extremes, they prove that both sides are harmful: the lack of education shown in Maggie and also Dee’s education and lack of respect of anything but her own world and her own ideas.
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