Can you proofread what I have? What are your suggestions for improvement? I feel that I don't have much to say in the essay except for what is already said in the quote. Thanks for the help!
America is what it is today through the different ethnicities that were brought into the country by immigration. Initially, however, distance, water, or landscape barriers separated the countries and inhibited communication and interaction among people from different countries. Because of this isolation, each country established its own distinct characteristic in its culture, lifestyle, and language. When these people from different countries immigrated into America, they experienced culture shock. Thus, tension and conflict is built as the minority culture feels threatened or overpowered by the American culture that dominated the country. This conflict is examined in Alice Walker's "Everyday Use" and Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni's "Mrs. Dutta Writes a Letter."
Walker's foil characters, Maggie and Dee, serve as representations of two different conflicting cultures. Maggie represents the minority culture. Her knowledge reveals that she continues to preserve her culture. Maggie informs Dee, "Aunt Dee's first husband whittled the dash...His name was Henry, but they called him Stash" (563). The small facts Maggie remembers of who whittled the dash and the alternative name the person is called by, show the significant pieces of information of her ancestor that she continues to keep. In a sense, she is living under the practice of her culture by continuing to keep this knowledge. Maggie's sincere devotion to her culture is further demonstrated when she willingly lets Dee have the quilts. Maggie states, "She can have them Mama...I can 'member Grandma Dee without the quilts" (564). Because she does not necessarily need to possess something tangible to remember Grandma Dee by, her culture is not based on materialistic practice. She, therefore, truly upholds the family's culture spiritually. Her mother confirms Maggie's faithfulness to her culture when she states, "It was Grandma Dee and Big Dee who taught her how to quilt herself" (564). As is evident, Maggie keeps the family's tradition by learning how to make a quilt. Because she is able to make a quilt, she is capable of practicing the family's culture throughout her lifetime. Thus, the culture is part of her.
In contrast, Dee represents the dominant modern and materialistic culture. Dee's superficiality is exhibited in her excess concern with her appearance. Her mother explains, "Dee wanted nice things...At sixteen she had a style of her own: and knew what style was" (560). In this instance, she shows a lot of interest in her style. Dee's self-interest causes her to show no interest in her adopted culture. Moreover, Dee is so absorbed in her image that her only concern is what others think about her. Her mother explains, "She wrote me once that no matter where we 'choose' to live, she will manage to come see us. But she will never bring her friends" (561). Obviously, Dee's conscious attention to her appearance presents her lack of confidence in her culture. She wants to keep her friends from meeting her family, who is part of her adopted culture. By being ashamed of her family, Dee also shows that she is ashamed of her culture. Dee's shallowness diminishes her value for her culture. Her attitude towards her name shows her lack of concern for culture. Dee states, "Not 'Dee,' Wangero Leewanika Keemanjo!...She's dead...I couldn't bear it any longer being named after the people who oppress me" (562). Dee's statement is a speech of rebellion against her family as well as her culture. Dee feels "oppress[ed]" by her old name, believing it is a slave trade name. By changing the name her parents have given her after her ancestors, she is evading herself from her culture. Dee's desire lacks spirituality. Dee's reason for wanting the family's handmade quilts is just to "Hang them" (564). Her interest in the quilt is only materialistic. Dee wants the quilt only to decorate the house. In the same way as she does not intend to use her quilt, Dee does not interest in and does not practice her family's culture.
With the coexistence of the two different cultures, Dee's dominant culture overwhelms Maggie. In Dee's presence, Maggie feels overpowered and threatened by Dee. Their mother explains, "Maggie attempts to make a dash for the house, in her shuffling way..." (561). When Dee comes to visit, Maggie feels that she needs to vanish, since she feels uncomfortable when Dee is around. Maggie's avoidance of Dee represents her tension she feels around the modern and materialistic culture. Her unconfident appearance further demonstrates her overwhelming feelings toward Dee's culture. Dee's and Maggie's mother describes, "...Maggie cowering behind me" (562). Maggie is terrified by Dee and feels that she needs to hide. Her sense of inferiority causes her behave in this cowardly manner. Maggie feels threatened by Dee's domineering culture.
When Mrs. Dutta moves from India to America to live with her son, she is in conflict with the American culture. The expectations are different in America. Dutta notices, "There is no need for her to get up early here in Sunnyvale, in her son's house...But the habit, taught to her by her mother-in-law when she was a bride of seventeen, a good wife wakes before the rest of the household, is one she finds impossible to break" (568). Mrs. Dutta is so used to fulfilling her mother-in-law's prescribed role as "a good wife" that she continues to do it while she is living in her son's house. She is not used to the holidays celebrated in America. She states, "A strange concept, a day set aside to honor mothers. Did shabs not honor their mothers the rest of the year, then?" (572). The idea of honoring mothers for one day is unusual. She feels contempt for the Americans, who she believes does not honor their mothers every day, as traditional in India. Her disapproval of Mother's Day is representative of the disapproval towards the American culture.
Furthermore, Mrs. Dutta has trouble adjusting to American's lifestyle when the way she washes clothes in India is different from America. The narrator explains, "Washing clothes has been a problem for Mrs. Dutta ever since she arrived in California...Mrs. Dutta asked Sagar to put up a clothesline for her in the backyard (573). In India, Mrs. Dutta was used to hand washing and hang drying the clothes. She is not used to the washing and drying machine used in America. When Mrs. Dutta asks her son to show her to use these machines, the narrator notes her terrified response afterward. The narrator states, "...when she faced them alone, the machines with their cryptic symbols and rows of gleaming knob terrified her. What if she pressed the wrong button and flooded the entire floor with soapsuds?" (574). Mrs. Dutta's response shows that she is overwhelmed by a highly technologically-advanced machine. Her fear of the washing machine can be interpreted as more than just her fear of a machine. It can be seen as the alienation and indecipherability for entire American culture that causes her fear for both the machine and America. Mrs. Dutta gets in another dispute with the American culture for conforming to expected roles assigned to a woman in India. Because Mrs. Dutta was raised under India's culture, she refuses to allow her son to wash the clothes. "No, no, no, clothes and all is no work for the man of the house. I'll do it" (574). Accustomed to women fulfilling household duties, she feels that she is responsible with the laundry. Her daughter-in-law rebukes, "That is why Indian men are so useless around the house. Here in America we don't believe in men's work and women's work. Don't I work outside all day, just like Sagar? How'll I manage if he doesn't help me?" (574). Mrs. Dutta does not understand that there is no "men's work and women's work." In America, the wife is not the only person obligated to household duties in a marriage. Duties vary from household to household. Like Mrs. Dutta's daughter-in-law, women have equal rights as men to go to work.
Just as Mrs. Dutta must deal with the challenges as a minority culture, Maggie must face the overwhelming dominant culture. Both of these characters ideally present themselves as pure extremists to their culture. By holding onto their culture, they preserve their past and create conflict in their present. Moreover, these characters' strong convictions deprive them of their complexity. Typically, the adaptation is not an either-or concept. Most people who have immigrated into another country will accept some aspects of the new culture and reject others. America itself is complex with its cultural diversity. Americans and immigrants have coexisted and been accustomed to one another. Each person adjusts according to the lifestyle and custom he or she likes.