Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use” utilizes resentful tones to convey the narrator’s attitude toward her own culture. When the narrator’s daughter, Dee, returns from college with new ideas of what heritage is their true heritage, the narrator resents her forceful attitudes about culture. Dee dismisses a culture that the narrator and her other daughter, Maggie, are already comfortable with. They are happy in what they have, and live the way they wish to live. In the end, a smug resentment exposes the narrator’s ability to put herself above a pushy daughter and go on living comfortably, just as she awlays has. A culture is something that is part of a history and tradition, it matures and changes through time, and parts of it cannot be trendily and selectively chosen.
Being from the country and away from large cities, Maggie and her mother are comfortable in their current situation. The narrator was “always better at a man’s job”, being able to do farm jobs well. Their yard is like an “extended living room”, and their house is a constant reminder of their history and their well-being. Maggie and her mother are content in the life they lead. The narrator (Maggie’s mother) even accepts her portliness, which “keeps her hot in zero weather”. Something most women are very self-concious about, the narrator takes in stride and finds a practical, beneficial use for her fat. Their comfort in all facets of life also come in their “everyday use” of certain objects, such as the quilt and butter churn handle. Dee treats these as foreign artifacts, but Maggie and her mother know where they came from, and do not need reminders. They are content to use quilts for their original use. After Dee leaves the house, the two of them “sat there just enjoying”, reflecting a contentment and satisfaction that will last for a long while. Even after Dee brings her new ideas and faux heritage, threatening and degrading their own appreciation of their culture, both Maggie and her mother know that the culture they have is their very own.
The simplicity of name lineage exposes the disconnection of Dee from her heritage. She doesn’t want to be “named after the people who oppress her”. Maggie and her mother are both a little resentful of this comment, ironically noting that she “was named after her aunt Dicie.” Even in a name, they can’t agree on a common culture. Dee wants the flamboyant, new “African” name, yet Maggie and her mother both see a heritage that has been passed down through ancestors. People that have lived in earlier times are the ones that form traditions and customs, one cannot just pick up sections and expect a developed culture to be formed. Maggie and her mother are resentful of Dee’s rejection of her own name and historical heritage, denoted by the flippant use of “Dee (Wangero)” when describing Dee. Their home is always described my Maggie and her mother as comfortable and pleasant, but “when Dee sees it she will no doubt want to tear it down.” The very center of their heritage, where the quilt and butter churn stand, and Dee will not like it. She will never appreciate the comfortable house, and will come see it. The narrator notes that “she will never bring her friends.” Maggie wonders “when did Dee ever have any friends?” Maggie and her mother resent Dee’s rejection of their life, and find a potential target to make them feel better about a hostile family member. The two women begrudge Dee for picking up a faddish culture, where they already have a developed, honest culture.
Maggie and her mother resent Dee for her refusal of a historical culture that they are comfortable in, a culture they really feel that they can call their own. The ideas of resentment and contentment underlie the family’s function as an insititution and how outside culture or other influences can affect a heritage and culture that has lasted through time. Dee is too flamboyant and faddish, picking up culture where she sees fit, and her family is resentful of her actions and her attempt to push this culture upon them. They realize that one cannot pick and choose a culture, it is something changed and developed through time and people, and accepted by those inheriting it.