Setting plays a critical factor in Alice Walker’s short story, “Everyday Use.” According to Roberts and Jacobs, “Setting is the natural, manufactured, political, cultural, and temporal environment, including everything that characters know and own (285).” Family objects are the most important part of the setting in “Everyday Use.” In fact, an argument that erupts over who will inherit two family quilts brings out two varying definition of the meaning of heritage and its value.
Dee’s definition of heritage and its value focuses on the objects themselves. Dee sees the objects her family owns as art pieces or something to be hung on the wall. This attitude towards her families artifacts represents for Dee a past she is unwilling to be a part of or carry on. In addition, Dee’s decision to change her name, not knowing how to quilt, and failure to be interested in the actual people who made these artifacts are all representative of Dee’s lack of desire to carry on her family’s heritage.
In contrast to Dee’s definition of heritage and its value are Maggie and her mother’s view point. Maggie sees her family’s artifacts as a way to remember the actual people who made them. Twice in the story Maggie actually references the people who made the objects instead of the objects themselves.
This can be seen in paragraph 52 when Maggie explains, “‘Aunt Dee’s first husband whittled the dash,’ said Maggie so low you almost couldn’t hear her. “His name was Henry, but they called him stash.'” Maggie also says, “I can ‘member Grandma Dee without the quilts (Para. 74).” Maggie is referring to the people not the objects as Dee tends to in her arguments.
In addition, Maggie is more likely than Dee to actually carry on her family traditions and value her family’s heritage. Maggie’s mother explains that “Maggie knows how to quilt” (Para. 69) and that Maggie learned to quilt from her Grandma and Big Dee. Maggie is also more likely to actually use her family objects while Dee will not.
The irony of the story comes out at the end when Dee explains to her mother that she does not understand her own heritage. In the beginning of “Everyday Use” Dee is described as bright and Maggie as dim by their mother. Yet at the end of the story, the reader can see that Maggie has an inner strength and a heart for the people in her family; while Dee seems clueless to the true meaning of heritage and its value.
In conclusion, Alice Walker’s short story, “Everyday Use” utilized the objects in setting to illuminate the characters true values.
Roberts, Edgar V., and Henry E. Jacobs, eds. Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing. 5Th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1998.
Walker, Alice. “Everyday Use.” (Pages 89-95) in Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing. Roberts, Edgar V., and Henry E. Jacobs, eds., 5Th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1998.