In the short story “Everyday Use” by Alice Walker, Dee is described as someone who is still struggling with her identity and heritage. Dee is described as a selfish and self-centered, and a woman who remains unchanged from her childhood after several years.
Dee thinks life as an African American needs a change. Dee blindly pursues the textbook idea of what African- American heritage is without recognizing her own heritage and treasuring it.Dee views the world differently from her family.
Mama lives by the way her mama raised her. Dee carries on with her life in the present, with the new styles and patterns, and an education her mama did not get, “she wrote me once that no matter where we ‘choose’ to live, she will manage to come see us, but she will never bring her friends.” By saying this it shows just how embarrassed Dee is by her heritage. The way Mama describes Dee with “a dress so loud it hurt my eyes,” and her “earrings hanging down touching her shoulders, her bracelets dangling and making noise” shows how Dee is compared to her Mama who “wears flannel nightgowns to bed and overalls during the day.” The relationship that the mother and daughter share is not one of the best relationships, but Mama still loves her, and always will love her. When Dee comes home from college she shocks her mama and sister by saying she changed her name from Dee to Wangero.
Mama is truly shocked; she doesn’t understand how her daughter could have given up a name that’s been in the family since before the Civil war. Mama and Wangero’s relationship has been stretching thin over the years but with the most recent visit, Wangero’s actions cut the tie completely. Wangero says that she changed her name because it sounds more African and shows her heritage more. She also decides that she wants quilts her family has made to hang up for decoration to show off her heritage even more. Dee’s weakness is the inability to accept her true heritage. She has turned her back on a part of her past by taking the Muslim name of “Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo.” Her reasoning behind changing her name was because she “couldn’t bear it any longer being named after the people who oppress me.” Her mother sees the action of the name change as Dee turning her back on her immediate blood relatives.
Dee’s insecurity concerning her past becomes evident, and her mother sees it as a denial of where she came from. It is as though she would rather claim the name of an unknown slave to that of her ancestors. Her biggest fear seems to be that by not declaring her heritage, she might someday have to return to the simple life of her mother and sister.
Throughout her life, Wangero’s always had a negative attitude towards her family. To Dee, her home and her family was an embarrassment. When her house burned down, Dee danced around rather than show concern towards her sister who was badly burned. Mama noticed that Dee “never takes a shot without making sure the house is included.” Mama is surprised because Dee had always hated the house and was glad when it burned. Dee wanted to be able to capture her family and former life on film.
Dee is battling with her identity and where she originated from. She has broken free from the shackles of her poor past and needs the photographs as confirmation of her chance. Walker conveys Dee’s strong need to have roots, even if those roots seemed beneath her new status. Dee feels as if she knows the most about African culture, but in reality she is the least connected to her actual heritage. Maggie is the true embodiment of the families history and heritage. That was the turning point for Mama who has this epiphany that suddenly she realizes that Maggie is the one who truly understands their heritage. To be an African American is not to own a quilt, it is to understand the reason behind it.
In the end, Dee leaves home thinking that her mother and her older sister still don’t understand the meaning of the word heritage. Little did she know that she was the one who actually didn’t understand.