Link to a PDF of the text of “Everyday Use” by Alice Walker: Everyday Use
Contrast and Irony Used to Reveal Cultural Conflict
In “Everyday Use” by Alice Walker
A mother has two daughters. Fate has dealt them very different cards and choices have been made that have taken them down very different roads. Their characters have changed so much that they are almost not recognizable as sisters. Alice walker tells a story from a mother’s point of view of a visit from her daughter Dee, who moved away to go to school and comes to represent many qualities of another culture foreign to her heritage. These qualities are contrasted with her sister Maggie who has remained at home and represents many enduring qualities of her heritage. The mother represents a rich heritage available to both daughters, but embraced by only one, and cast aside by the other. Walker begins itemizing a list of traits that are associated with one culture; power, privilege, and racism, that are in contrast to another culture; true beauty, sincerity and respect. The contrast between the daughters represents much more than sibling rivalry. The contrast is between two rival world systems.
To read the complete review please see the page with the same title listed in the right hand side bar. It is a bit too long for my main blog and I like the page feature that keeps things in one permanent location.
In America where we prize our individuality like a medal of honor, we seem to actually under value it. We often even abuse it, going along with an endless chain of fads, conforming in many ways to the draining expectations of our peers. How many of our career choices, financial choices, other major life choices are made through ignorant submission to the values of others.
Social norms are part of every society as a gift for the preservation and safety of people. Whether you believe these social values came through social evolution or as a gift from our Creator, either way they can help protect society. So I am not really against the basic frameworks of society, it’s how we get along without destroying each other. However, the freedom of individuality is also an incredible gift, and I believe from God.
In many cultures the pressure for conformity is immense compared to our western culture. In Japan they have a proverb; “the nail that sticks up, must be hit down”. This is their sentiment about non-conformity. This is how society is kept in order, through social obligation.
But in our Western culture, wherever there is a Bible heritage, we shake hands with each other as equals and bow only to God. Our first allegiance is to God and second to society. We can allow God to direct our life above the demands of society. This is an incredible heritage and an incredibly under rated gift!
Often atheists will rant against the oppressive Christian morals inflicted upon our society. This reveals an ignorance of other cultures historically and currently. Many ancient cultures especially in Asia are very conservative morally and politically. Possibly the ancient cultures have learned through experience what America is playing around with like an adolescent. In Korea about 85% of all people, male and female are virgin when they marry. They learned that sex is a powerful force and is not to be toyed with.
Often humanists and atheists claim, “I don’t need a bible or god to help me be a good person” Well ok then please follow through on this! Please don’t use lack of religion as excuse to rebel against those values that really do preserve society. Looking over history we do in fact see that families really are the backbone of any society. Any evolutionist should see this plainly. And Christians often promote this polarizing effect when they claim to have sole ownership of family values. Many family values are aligned with Christianity but not exclusively. Looking again over history and other cultures we observe that most cultures embrace something similar to the Biblical 10 commandments. Most cultures teach things like; respect your parents, don’t steal, don’t murder, don’t have sex with another person’s spouse. But the Bible does add uniqueness saying, “Don’t make idols or have other gods”. My point is that as a society we may have a long way to grow in our maturity towards sexual purity.
A friend asked once, “Why does the Bible forbid fornication, sex outside of marriage?” I answered that I didn’t know why but accepted God’s authority on the issue. Over the years having time to struggle personally with the issue and when I was reading some psychology books on boundaries I came to some personal conclusions. I realize now that boundaries are a basic issue of healthy relationships and of personal mental health. The first basic boundary is physical, don’t touch another’s body without permission, don’t hit or abuse. That same boundary principle applies to mental and social issues. In sex we move profoundly into another’s physical and mental space. But unless this is rape we do it by mutual consent, right? So is this a violation of boundaries. Yes, I believe so. If people are not aware of or choose to ignore the potential damage, the boundaries are still defiled. They don’t make condoms for the heart!
Applying boundaries is just the negative aspect of purity. What in the positive sense do we have to look to for fulfillment? We have as an ideal the goal of a lifetime commitment, a covenant, with a friend and lover. Again the ancient cultures show us the beautiful picture of elderly couples caring for each other through their whole lives. We have the positive image of a relationship of safety, safe to expose ourselves to each other because we have created an atmosphere of safety by our commitment to each other.
And finally we have the opportunity to honor our Creator by showing respect for an aspect of life that is given to us as a special gift. Even in the movie “Avatar” by James Cameron there is recognition that mating is a sacred bond before their deity. This is returning to some very ancient roots of our society. Jeremiah the prophet of Israel declares, “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls”.
Do we perceive Christianity as a life of conformity or liberation? Religion, social conformity, trying to be cool, making a good impression can all involve levels of conformity. Americans pride ourselves on being “individuals”. Yet lets be honest here. Look at the amount of conformity necessary to be cool. How many tatoos or piercings do you have? How expensive is that impressive car you drive? Our styles are all about conformity. Its a human dilemna and I don’t think there is any way out.
Religious conformity is one of the more obvious forms. But is there an actual freedom in submission to our Creator? What if Knowing God is not about conformity to social standards but living in harmony with the author of life? What if submission to the ultimate authority gives me freedom from the petty authority of people’s opinions?
There is a proverb in Japan about social conformity; “The nail that sticks up must be hit down”. Mr. Kanzo Uchimura a n0torious Japanese Christian professor is known for his refusal to submit to pressure to bow to the emporer’s signet. Jesus is the nail that would not stay down even in the grave.
I understand the normal part of being social creatures. That it is natural to be part of a group; that social norms are a natural way of protecting a society, of preserving peace. However if there is a Creator then true peace can be found in living in harmony with the author of life.
Gaze; I was walking home from work all stressed about life. I saw a sunflower in the field just gazing up at the sun. I walked up to that sunflower and said with my biggest authority voice, “What are you doing just standing here gazing at the sun? Can’t you get a job? Can’t you do something important with your life? What’s the matter with you?” You know what; that sunflower just ingnored me and my authority and kept gazing up at the sun.