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Cultural Identity and Problems in "Everyday Use"

Alice Walker’s brief story “Everyday Use” is a tightly woven tale that brings collectively many disparate elements of the story to reinforce the thesis put forward by W.E.B. DuBois that black Americans are trapped in a double consciousness between their African heritage and their American citizenship. Walker’s story is about the bifurcation among a mother and a daughter, in between America and Africa, and amongst the two cultures battling for one identity. Beyond the obvious identity confusion expressed in the character of Dee/Wangero, Walker imbues her story with symbolism that points to the common confusion of identity inherent in the African expertise.

DuBois equates the experience of black America with striving to develop a singular consciousness out of an identity produced up of dual perspectives. DuBois writes that “One ever feels his twoness…two warring ideals in one particular dark body” (564). Walker’s story is about this war over identity and she extends it even to the symbolism of the products that Dee wants. Dee urgently desires the butter churn and asks, “Didn’t Uncle Buddy whittle it out of a tree you all employed to have?” The extremely reality that the churn was produced from a tree, that its identity was forged into anything new primarily based upon its labor value from anything that was naturally formed, is indicative of the striving for a soul about which DuBois writes. But even beyond that, there is anything far more to the significance of the churn. The wood that was in and of itself one thing crucial and of value was fashioned into a butter churn, an instrument that takes one point, milk, and transforms it into something else, butter. DuBois speaks of merging with out losing any essence, (565) and the butter churn is as excellent a symbol for that striving as any other item that may have been identified in the property. For what is butter? Is it milk or is it some thing totally new? What is an African-American? Is he African or American or both? Can he be each? If butter is not nevertheless milk, then what is it? Walker requires this symbol of merging identities that springs from a mechanism which is itself a forged tool, and refuses to overplay it. Rather, she extends the metaphor even further by having Dee choose to take the churn top and imbue with yet another identity. Dee possibly sees making the churn best into a centerpiece as an emancipation of sorts the churn no longer has to do operate, it can turn into merely ornamental. The churn turns 1 thing into yet another, just as slavery turned Africans into Americans. But Walker does not cease there. Her use of symbolism extends to the major object in the story.

What Dee has actually come for are the quilts produced by her grandmother, quilts that her mother has promised to Maggie. These quilts, even though far more heavily emphasized than the churn, are equally subtle symbols of striving for identity. A quilt is by its very nature one thing with a double consciousness. The quilt Dee desires especially had been produced out of components of old dresses that her grandmother utilized to put on. The quilt, like the butter churn, is a utilitarian device. Even so, the quilt differs from the churn in that it is created out of pre-existing utilitarian devices — the dresses — rather than some thing strong and independent in its identity prior to becoming created. Beyond that, of course, is the truth that Dee doesn’t need the quilts for their intended goal. Once once again, Dee desires to take one thing that has a use and turn it into an ornamental device. Dee’s want to take basic tools and transform them into one thing greater reflects DuBois’ fight against prejudice. DuBois writes that prejudice engenders self-abasement in the black person. (567) The way 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 mother and sister. Maggie would have the temerity to use the quilts to keep warm. Dee recognizes the accurate top quality and worth of the quilts. She will hang them on the wall. Taking some thing that has a use and a objective and employing it for some thing in addition to that goal is the ultimate accomplishment in high culture. For Dee, the quilts and her capacity to use them for decoration rather than for warmth represent her emancipation. That the quilts have been after components of a dress utilised in the very first line of defense the cold-clothes-only serves to make them all the more valuable. The symbolism of warring identities is underlined all through the story by Walker’s choice of products preferred by Dee.

Even a lot more obvious than the symbolism of the things Dee wants in reference to DuBois’ theory of double consciousness amongst black Americans is Dee herself. In a lot of approaches, Dee is much less a completely realized character than she is an embodiment of the struggle for a unifying identity that DuBois so eloquently speaks about. Dee is a character at war not only with her mother and her culture, but with herself as effectively. This schizophrenia is addressed by DuBois, at least tangentially, when he writes about “the notion of fostering and building the traits and talents of the Negro, not in opposition to or contempt for other races, but rather in massive conformity to the higher ideals of the American Republic.” At this stage of her life Dee has nonetheless not learned to obtain this with out contempt. Dee clearly shows contempt for her mother, her sister and their entire way of life. And yet she just as clearly hasn’t genuinely achieved any correct emancipation she hasn’t achieved a correct consciousness of self. Dee accuses her loved ones of not understanding their heritage. She, in fact, returns property in order to retrieve these cultural artifacts which she believes represents her heritage. But her designs and intents are something but respectful of her heritage. In reality, she desires to place them on show in a way that is actually not very so different from the white capitalist cashing in on ethnic artworks. Dee could have changed her name to the far more African-sounding Wangero Leewanikia Kemanjo, but in reality she has grow to be even a lot more Americanized than her household. Mother and Maggie use the objects of their heritage in obeisance to the heritage that is, the quilts created out of old dresses have been a necessity simply because they could not afford a new blanket or comforter. The heritage inherent in the dresses was passed onto the quilt almost everything was utilitarian simply because it had 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 may possibly have become Wangero, but she just as nicely could have changed her name to JC Penney. Dee has successfully conformed to the greater ideals of the American Republic as its worse, but she has done so specifically in opposition to and contempt of her own race. Dee has not effectively found a single self-consciousness that combines her American and her African parts she as an alternative 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 precisely what Dee does all through the story. Dee can attain consciousness only by comparing herself to what she was and her family still is, or against what Hakim-a-barber claims to be. The truth that she is nevertheless waging the war to combine the two into one singular sense of consciousness is produced apparent by the story itself. Dee’s return to retrieve the products of heritage deemed so crucial to her can be seen as an unconscious wish to retrieve her heritage and mend the split in her consciousness. Whilst her initial intention might be to turn the churn top and the quilt into higher cultural artifacts, she could also be attempting in a subconscious manner to come to terms the fact that she has however to attain the singularity of consciousness about which DuBois writes.

Walker uses each characterization and symbolism to achieve a unified vision of the battle for identity and self-consciousness faced by blacks in Americans. Slavery brought individuals from Africa to America and turned them into tools of capitalism and ever considering that the struggle has been to obtain an identity that combines their lost heritage with their new country. The difficulty has been compounded by the truth that so significantly of the heritage imposed upon them in this nation has been as what they can do rather than as what they are. Walker effectively makes use of the symbolism of every day items for daily use to underscore this difficulty.
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