The Impact of Heritage



The Impact of Heritage

I believe the topic of heritage is always a difficult topic to approach in any discussion. Heritage means so many different things to so many different people. This idea of one’s heritage transcends all barriers, and it is possible to spend a lifetime, literally, debating which individual’s heritage everyone should be obliged to follow. For some, heritage serves as an omen for the future, a glimpse into what is to come as it is continually passed down through their offspring. Everyone agrees that heritage withstands the tests of time, important in present times as it was in the past. Alice Walker takes an in-depth look at the principle of heritage in the African-American community and why the belief is African-Americans value heritage more importantly than any other culture of people.
The story revolves three central characters; all try to define their own definitions of heritage, with each holding on to their beliefs as though they were the only treasures worth saving in the world. It is inevitable that these beliefs will result in a conflict within the family unit. In order to better understand where the conflict in the stories lies, I believe an analysis of each character is required to better understand their motives and actions in the story. Walker structures the story so that it makes the reader believe that Dee’s perception of heritage is the most important because it is the most volatile. Dee feels that the heritage forced upon her by white slave and sharecropper owners through generations in her family will
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never be her own and she refuses to lay claim to it. In fact, within the story she becomes the strongest advocate against it: “‘what happened to Dee?’…’She’s dead’…’I couldn’t bear it any longer being named after the people who oppress me…’” (Diyanni Literature/ English Textbook Pg. 411) Dee is also very intent on tracing her heritage back to her Afro-centric roots: “…’No, Mama’… ‘Not Dee’, Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo…” (Pg. 411) However, as we began to near the mantle of the story, we began to interpret Dee’s behavior as her way of slowly relinquishing all ties to Mama and Maggie, and instead finding comfort in a man who follows in the same spirit as she does, Asalamalakin.
Mama and Maggie share most perceptions of their heritages, which lead to only a few differences. Both cling to the old pattern of their history and neither seeks to stray far from it, and neither seems to take much interest in Dee’s new friend and his new ideas. However, Maggie’s quietness throughout crucial points in the story makes the reader think that either her mother or her older sister can easily persuade her to join their side of the argument. I think Maggie’s definition of heritage varies between whether it is the right belief at the right time and the right place. Mama, on the other hand, stands firm behind her belief, all though not in a boisterous and rambling way, but she seems to know that quietness toward Dee symbolizes her defiance. That defiance will eventually provide the lead into the main conflict.
I feel that Maggie’s character is more admirable than the others. The late African American poet Nathan Martin was quoted as saying, “Heritage is learning from the past, but evolving with the present, in order to better serve in
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the future.” (Martin’s Way of Negro Poetry Pg. 78) I believe that it is imperative to be firm on central ideas of heritage, but in order to keep those central ideas powerful; you must be more lenient on other ideas. Heritage is at its strongest when it contains a wide variety of thoughts and ideas. The more open you become with other heritages, the more you receive from their heritages to benefit your own, and your heritage becomes a lot stronger.
The conflict of the story starts when Dee spots two quilts that were made by her grandmother and demands that Mama hand over possession of the quilts to her. These quilts are considered a family heirloom and they symbolize Mama’s strong belief in her family’s heritage and her unwavering and becoming stronger and more noticeable defiance to Dee’s advances: “… I did something I