The Betrayal of Heritage
Alice Walker was born in Eatonton, Georgia on February 9th 1944. On her journey to success she worked as a social worker, teacher and thereafter she became a lecturer. She was also part and parcel of the Civil Right Movement in Mississippi during the 1960’s. Apart from being a reputable poet and essayist Walker also won herself Pulitzer award for fiction on account of her 1982 novel “The Color Purple.” “Everyday use” is a short story found in Walker’s (1973) collection “In love and in Trouble”. The short story reflects on the life of African Americans who are living against their cultural norms and it also gives us reasons that explain why this situation exists in the African American society.
Through trying to evade blames and poverty most people have found themselves falling victims of this menace where by culture and the way of upbringing no longer counts in one’s life. The fate of heritage preservation has always been on the hands of an incoming generation, the elderly men and women in the society who handover traits to the young people have a task to educate them on how important these factors are to their lives and their children’s life because they not only determine their traits but also the type of behavior that the toddlers shall emulate from them.
The short story, “Everyday Use” is about a young lady who for some reasons thinks that she is mature enough to make crucial decisions concerning her own life by herself. During her visit to her home in the rural part of the country her mother tries her best to rectify this dent that has gone beyond control but still this approach does not bare any fruits. Originally she goes by the name “Dee Johnson” but her exposure to the outside world which is full of diverse culture and lifestyle she prefers to be referred to as “Wangera Lewanika Kemanjo”, this particular name gives the mother hard time because it is impossible for her to recognize it for she only knows the first name which has been neglected by the daughter for now and therefore as a narrator it becomes confusing for the old woman to be consistent in addressing the daughter by the new name.
Betrayal of Heritage is the major theme that Walker (1973) tries to help the readers to comprehend. “Dee” does not share in the recognition and reverence of their culture even though her mother does. She describes this type of culture as a fragile heritage and she points out the aspect of clothing and design as a reason. She considers the dress code by her grandfather and mother an outdated mode of living. Dee wants to go by the current standards of life and she cannot have a second thought about this. Being an African American she comes out strongly to condemn the oppression that the blacks underwent in the hands of the whites. She makes this factor a pillar for her argument saying that she cannot be identified with a name that originates from people who oppressed them and still oppress them. In other words, Dee is speaking from a vengeance point of view, “I couldn’t bare it any longer, being named after people who oppress me” (Everyday use p.53) and via this she now helps us to understand the reason as to why she dropped her original name and took another. This step seems satisfactory for her but in real sense it is betrayal to her own heritage, we can say that she is fighting a lost battle.
However, another scholarly point of view may argue that she is using oppression that took place in the past years as an excuse so that she can be allowed to drive her life in the direction that wishes to. To some extent this argument is true because she only speaks about oppression and we don’t see where the aspect of dressing comes in, thus we can affirm the fact that she is only using this factor as a bridge so that she can live the kind of life that she wishes to live. Blame game has never been the best approach for a matter such as heritage thus one needs to listen to people who have been there before so as to know what is to be done in the current and the future. Walker’s (1973) work does not only speak of the African Americans it speaks of the current age that we are in and it is a reflection of what the current world looks like. The present day generation has chosen to be defiant to the limitations of culture and heritage and this choice has come with dire consequences such as disowning of children by their parents and many a times young people have fallen prey to the lusts of the flesh leading to addiction and abuse of drugs and many other cases. We concur with the fact that the short story has been written at a time when all these cases are not rampant in the society but one thing that we also understand about liberal works is that they carry a prophetic voice and in Walker’s case whatever she saw during that time has grown to be a huge menace in today’s world and this is as a result of ignorance by parents. Parents carry the responsibility of directing their children in a correct manner that shall ensure the child shall not grow to be wayward in the near future.
It is crystal clear that Dee does not wish to be American thus she conducts herself in a manner that portrays she is an African. Her mode of dressing and speech depicts that she is an African even though she is African American. This is a clear indication that many a times when people learn negative things about a particular culture or a group of people; they may wish that they are not in any way part and parcel of such groups or community and some may go to the extent of even exchanging their name just like what Dee did. An individual can never do this out of selfish ambition but it may be because they don’t feel comfortable being identified with same people that may have brought one or two misfortunes to their lives.
Even with these factors notwithstanding, Dee’s case is ironical and that is why we say she is fighting a lost battle. She is totally disconnected from her culture but she ignorantly wants to derive her point on how best heritage can be preserved. Dee acts Contrary to the saying that, “You cannot preach water and drink wine” this is because for some reasons she takes herself to be a perfect human being who knows more about culture and heritage beyond the people who have been in existence before she was born. This notion is what has misled her into doing the right thing in a wrong way, she is on the right path of preserving the African in her but she does it in a wrong way whereby she gets disconnected to her own roots while trying to prove her facts.
The quest for knowledge is what we view as the cause of the sudden change of Dee’s character. After attending school in Augusta, her life and way of thinking has been liberated and she thinks that the only way to obtain liberty is via denouncing oppression and putting this yoke down. Christianity is the most revered religion in America and therefore because she does not want to get involved in any way whatsoever with the whites she decides to convert into a Muslim and she even goes to the extent of having an Islamic boyfriend who goes by the name “Hakim-a-barber” (Everyday use 1973). Via critical analysis of this step we are able to learn that the move to have an Islamic lover was not out of natural love but it was a move to prove and defend a fact. The attitude that has developed in Dee’s life makes decisions out of self defense. Love is supposed to be natural but in this case this young lady has decided to make it as an instrument in fighting for the liberation that she believes. This mentality among the young people in the world today is what has led to regrets upon regrets because many wish to do something so that the society can approve without putting into consideration whether whatever they are doing is right or wrong. In a bid to eradicate this in the society, we should see mutual relationships being developed between children and their parents and let there be a consensus in everything that a family wishes to do. The luck of agreement is what has led to the split of many families and this is because everyone wishes that they should be heard first before any other person is listened to. No human being is self-made we need each other so as to achieve our goals and this can only be accomplished when we learn to listen to one another and consider each and everyone’s views no matter how inferior they may seem to be.
Having been educated by the church and her sister Maggie used as a sacrificial lamb so that she can escape the Ghetto, Dee does not seem to recognize this good gestures and sacrifices made by the people close to her. Dee despises her mother, sister and the church and yet they are the same people and institution that ensured that she gets a better life. Maggie is a reproach in the society, she accepted to be disrespected so that her sister can be respected and this was supposed to be reciprocated by Dee. Instead of respect, Dee decided to take all the glory back to herself and she also fails to recognize the church that worked to ensure that she went to school. This is outright betrayal of heritage and religion, she betrays the church by turning into Muslim even when everyone can attest to the fact that she has been made who she is on account of the church. This portrays the highest degree of disrespect betrayal from Dee because if she had been wise enough she would have asked for wise counsel before making any of this steps but unfortunately she chose to be defiant to the set decorum.
Every wrong choice in life is bound to have a consequence thus we need to seek good advice from people who were there before us especially in matters pertaining our ways of living. We might be striving to achieve something good but in a wrong way thus we should consider every kind of approach that is at our disposal before implementing it. Having knowledge of what was done before shall help us to understand what can be done now so that we may realize our set goals, just as it is said in the holy bible that it is impossible for a blind man to lead another blind man (Luke 6:39) that is the same way it is improper for one talk about culture that you have no knowledge about.
Alice Walker. “Everyday Use” Love and trouble (1973).
The Holy Bible; Luke 6:39.