Is Dee wholly unsympathatic in "Everyday Use"? Is there any emotional ambivalence at the end between the mother and Maggie?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In this short story the overwhelming impression that we have of the character of Dee is rather negative. It is clear that Dee, in her rejection of her own American roots and her embracing of her African roots now disparages her mother and Maggie, thinking they are beneath her and that she is superior to them. It is clear that even before she left home, Dee, with her ambition and perspectives, made Maggie and her mother feel ignorant through her habit of reading to them:

She used to read to us without pity, forcing words, lies, other folk's habits, whole lives upon us two, sitting trapped and ignorant underneath her voice.... Presed us to her with the serious ways she read, to shove us away at just the moment, like dimwits, we seemed to understand.

However, although we can see this rudeness in her attitude, the way she demands the quilts and holds them as if they were "already" hers, we can also perhaps understand her perspective. We are told that she always wanted "nice things" and had a determination to rise above her poor roots:

She was determined to stare down any disaster in her efforts. Here eyelids would not flicker for minutes at a time... At sixteen she had a style of her own: and knew what style was.

She is clearly a very self-determined woman who is ambitious to achieve things in life despite her background and this is something that we can admire in her character. In forgetting her roots, what we perhaps cannot forgive is her attitude to household objects that are part of her history that she has now rejected. We can see this when she asks for the churn top. It is clear with Maggie's memory of who made the churn that for Maggie and Mama it is a vital link to loved relatives who are now no longer here. Dee just wants it for an artifact to decorate her home.

There does not appear to be any ambivalence in the ending between Mama and Maggie - in fact, Mama's actions in bequeathing the quilts to Maggie has bolstered Maggie's self-esteem and made her feel loved and valued, and they share a moment of happy intimacy together.

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