what is alice walker saying in everyday use about the nature of heritage?
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Perhaps the biggest irony in the story is Dee’s rejection of her real heritage for a broader, yet limited, cultural ideal. By juxtaposing Dee with her sister and mother, Walker suggests Dee's new identity is simply a superficial rebranding of herself. She strives to wear her heritage like a unique treasure but ends up shrouded in imitation. Dee reinvents herself using a mixture of academic and romantic ideas of pre-colonial Africa, but her flamboyant clothing combined with her gaudy jewelry make “Wangero” look more like an African caricature rather than an authentic attempt at a cultural shift in attitude. In swapping her name - a familial namesake - for a Ghanaian one, she opts to identify with a less specific aspect of her heritage.
Dee's appreciation for items in Mama's home as artifacts of her heritage is similarly misguided. She insists a quilt, once viewed as a symbol of her family's poverty, is now imbued with the spirit of her ancestry. But Dee wants to fetishize these objects rather than put them to "everyday use", rejecting the active heritage around her. These items are an extension of her real heritage; having evolved with the family rather than become quaint reminders of a life Dee put behind her when she left for school. Her notion of heritage is one that is past - even though Mama and Maggie and their way of life are still very much present and valid. Heritage is, thus, both past and present, and encompasses one's personal and ancestral history.