and “Everyday Use” by Alice Walker
In Marriage is a Private Affair, the story tells of two people who are in love but because of tradition they are being kept apart. Nene and Nnaemeka are madly in love and are planning a wedding. Nene is from the city and Nnaemeka is from the rural area. Both lovers were from a different tribe and the Ibo ancestors have passed on the tradition or their beliefs that there should never be any marriage outside of the Ibo tribe. In Everyday Use by Alice Walker, traditions and culture also are at the forefront of the conflict between the mother and her two daughters. Both stories highlight culture as a theme and show that a person can be held down because of ignorance and the refusal to accept any other views except their own.
Dee, the “gifted” daughter, has gone on to living her own life choosing to forget her culture and taking on a new identity, stating that Dee is dead and that she could no longer bear the name of the people that oppress her. “No, Mama,” she says. “Not ‘Dee,’ Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo!” (Walker l.25). Conversely, Maggie is the opposite of Dee. She is simple and likes and respects the modest country life “Like good looks and money, quickness passed her by / she will marry John Thomas (who has mossy teeth in an earnest face”) (Walker l.16-18). In Marriage is a Private Affair, the issue of marriage is viewed by Nnaemeka’s family as something that is not based on love, rather it is about loyalty to the tribe and saving face. Nene thought that her future father-in-law would be happy for them when she says, “that he should be let into our happiness now” (Achebe 1). Nonetheless, he does not believe in breaking tradition and refuses to have anything to do with them.
On the other hand, Dee in Everyday Use does not believe in being loyal to her race or her family. She thinks nothing of tradition and, in fact, wants to destroy everything that reminds her of her ancestors. Dee and her mother had an argument over some quilts that she was saving for Maggie. She thinks that Maggie would have better use for them but Dee says Maggie would put them to everyday use. In fact, Dee tells her mother that she just doesn’t understand “You just don’t understand” (Walker l.79). When her mother asks her what, she says, “your heritage” (Walker l.79). Dee cannot understand why her mother holds on to her heritage and still lives the life she does when she knows where she came from. Ma came from a life of slavery but still held on to the past although it was rough. In both stories the question of culture is misunderstood. Both characters, Dee and the grandfather, although similar in one sense are different in terms of what they hold dear – family and commitment and love. Dee did not care much for family and ancestors while the grandfather cherished the customs and traditions that were handed down. He would never allow anyone or anything to embarrass the family name.
Likewise, both stories are set in rural areas where people are not exposed to western culture and beliefs, and will not allow the new culture to seep into their way of life. However, the children are often the ones to break such trends. Dee left home and after being exposed to “the outside,” she views culture as just a way of life and must be lived without the complexities of family and traditions. Dee wants some of her mother’s old furniture, not as anything to remember her past, but something to add some zest to her house. Dee has no sympathy for her mother and poor Maggie who was almost crippled in a fire. She wanted everything in the house. “This churn is what I need.” (Walker l.47). Then she wanted the quilts and when she was told that they were for Maggie she said, “Maggie can’t appreciate those quilts!” (Walker l.66). It did not matter to her that they would be left with nothing when she takes it all. When she was leaving there were no hugs exchanged. She kissed her sister and told her “You ought to try to make something of yourself too Maggie, it’s really a new day for us / but you and mama
live you’ll never know” (Walker l.81).
Nnaemeka, unlike his father, believes in love and wants to choose for himself the girl of his dreams. Nonetheless, his father chides him when he tells him that he loves Nene. “What did you say / I owe it to you my son, as a duty / to show you what is right and what is wrong” (Achebe l.72). He is ready to forsake his son in the name of tradition. Dee and Nnaemeka represent the world where culture is not revered but is seen as a part of history that holds no significance in the modern way of life. Dee’s mother and sister and Okeke hold onto a culture that can never be replaced by love, but must be held on to lest they forget where they come from.
Okeke believes that holding on to traditions is more important that keeping his son or gaining a daughter. He believes in his tribe’s traditions and beliefs and is ready to listen to their advice rather than think of his son’s happiness. He seeks his neighbor’s advice and holds onto the tradition that his son must marry a member of the tribe in order to preserve his family’s heritage. Dee’s mother did the same thing. In an effort to preserve the family’s heritage she snatches the quilt from Dee and gives it to Maggie. She will use it as it is meant to be used, every day and then passed on to her daughter one day. Dee would only use the quilt for show – wall hanging and then when she is tired of it, discards it just like she did with her past.
Maggie would cherish it and it would remain in the family as a reminder of their history and heritage. (This is good.while turning your back on your child is not).
Both Dee’s and Nnaemeka’s parents have inherited many customs and traditions from their ancestors. Their view of heritage is seen by the children as something that is backward thinking and does not allow one to move on. Nnaemeka changes all of that when he chose to defy what his father believes in and marries a girl who was not of the Ibo tribe. The narrow-mindedness and ignorance shown by his father was soon erased when he realizes that he was neglecting his own family because of ignorance and that he has grandchildren-the true measure of tradition. Both stories portray individuals who choose to break away from the norm and seek fulfilment in places where people are not ignorant about ethnic groups outside of their own. Dee chooses to forget family and cling to someone who has no idea of her background. Instead of keeping things to remind her of her past she uses them to erase all trace of identity. In her ignorance she sacrifices family for something she knows nothing about. In the end she puts her sun glasses on which could be an indication of her unwillingness to see what true family values meant. The grandfather soon realizes that there is nothing like family to keep a tradition alive. Mama also sees this and is content with having Maggie and passing on to her all the stuff that she herself had inherited. It keeps the memories alive.
Achebe, Chinua. “Marriage is a Private Affair” In Girls at War and other Stories: Anchor Books / Random House. Retrieved from http://learning.qsishenzhen.org/pluginfile.php/44305/mod_resource/content/3/marria ge-is-a-private-affair.pdf
Walker, Alice. (b. 1944). “Everyday Use” Retrieved from http://www.cusd200.org/cms/lib7/IL01001538/Centricity/Domain/361/Everyday_Use.pdf