Heritage does not consist of material possessions and objects, but rather the history, culture and traditions that are passed from one generation to the next. This is the theme of the short essay "Everyday Use" by Alice Walker. She establishes her theme through the character development of Mama, Maggie and Dee. Walker reveals her feelings about heritage by contrasting the characters of Mama and Maggie with that of Dee. .
Walker uses the characters of Maggie and Mama and their relationship to portray what true heritage is. Maggie is the daughter actually listening to the stories of her ancestors and learning the customs and traditions of her people. When Dee is seizing possession of the churn top, it is Maggie who is able to recall that "Aunt Dee's first husband whittled the dash His name was Henry, but they called him Stash,"(Walker 361). Later, when Dee claims that Maggie will wear out the quilts if she uses them, Mama points out that "She can always make some more .Maggie knows how to quilt,"(362) Maggie is the one that has the ability to carry on the ability of making quilts. Dee just wants the quilts for material value. Mama has the stories of their ancestors as far back as she can remember stored in her brain. When they are discussing the quilts Mama recollects, "They had been pieced together by Grandma Dee and then Big Dee and me had hung them on the quilt frames on the front porch and quilted them,"(361-362). The quilts don't have any sentimental value to Dee because she doesn't know how they were made, or by who, and the stories behind them. It is the appreciation that Mama and Maggie have for these items and their willingness to include them in their present lives that shows their heritage .
The character of Dee represents the people who lose touch with their culture and heritage and instead associate heritage with material things. Walker portrays Dee's character in a negative light throughout the story.