A Lesson About Family

Intro to English Literature I

24 May 2004

Many sociologists define the term values as cultural types of standards by which people measure goodness and beauty. These values also serve as broad guidelines for social living and human interaction. For the most part, values are different for different cultures. However, there are many universal traits that cultures share. For example, most world cultures have some form of music. They have services for marriage and services for death. These examples mainly help to define a culture, however, the values that are placed on them tend to be fairly common. In today’s world, family values are values that seem to be losing importance among people.

Unfortunately, many people today can only trace their families back two or three generations. In 1973, Alice Walker wrote a short story about a mother and her two daughters that lived in a time when family members could trace their genealogy back one hundred or two hundred years. "Everyday Use" is a story about family values and the conflict that can occur when those values are compromised. Upon reading Alice Walker’s short story, "Everyday Use", the reader should leave with new perspectives about the importance of understanding one’s heritage, about the significance of a humble beginning in life, and about the importance of being happy and content with who one is and what one has.

The importance of family heritage is something that many people have forgotten in today’s world. For example, asking some people what the names are of their past relatives, is like asking them how many stars are there in the sky. They just do not know the answer. It seems as though the people of this generation have not been taught how important it is to be proud of the traditions of their ancestors. In the story, "Everyday Use", Mama represents what her family history is all about and she is quite proud of who she is. It becomes evident to the reader, that Mama is very family oriented. She describes her two daughters, Maggie and Dee, with great detail. Although they are sisters, the daughters are very different types of people. Dee has an education and Maggie does not have one. Dee’s education, as well as everything surrounding it, is what makes this story important, with regards to family heritage. To understand this, one must realize that Dee was never happy living her life with Mama in a run down, three bedroom house. At least this is what Mama thinks. In the story, Mama states that she used to think Dee hated their old house and that she hated Maggie as well. However, Mama feels as though all of that changes when she and the church raise money to send Dee away to college. Before and even after Dee receives her education, she seems to be ashamed of Mama and Maggie and the relatives before them. It is this aspect of the story that compromises the importance of family heritage. This is apparent when Dee reintroduces herself as Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo. "I could not bear it any longer being named after the people who oppressed me" (Walker 491). Dee’s feeling of oppression suggests to the reader that she resents the family that raised her. At this point, she has become extremely ethnocentric, in that she is passing judgment on her family’s culture by comparing it with the standards of her "new" culture. Dee’s gift of education causes an epiphany for her. However, she does not forget the importance of family heritage. Rather, her formal education causes her to view heritage in a very materialistic fashion because she now looks at the objects of her family’s past as symbolic trophies. Dee does not want these objects for their everyday use and practicality. On the other hand, Mama and Maggie value these items for those reasons and therein lies another conflict in the story. In essence, Mama, Dee, and Maggie all recognize the importance of family heritage. However, each view the concept differently and this is why they have problems with each other.

In addition to valuing one’s heritage, it is also important to be thankful or humble with regards to the circumstances in which one’s life begins. In