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The story "Everyday Use" provides many details about both Dee and Maggie. They are as different as they can be. Dee is the engaging and adventurous one, with tendencies to take up causes and enthusiasms, while Maggie is the shy, bashful, retiring homebody. Of the two, Dee is attractive and proud of herself, whereas Maggie is homely and scarred from burns, and is therefore withdrawn. Dee is self-centered and self-absorbed, not at all realizing that Maggie, too, has feelings and also has a strong sense of family background. Maggie is generous, being willing to give up the quilts (paragraph 74) to her demanding older sister, but perhaps her willingness is a submissive expectation of being down while Dee is at the top. However, Maggie also exhibits anger when Dee asks for the quilts (paragraph 57). In other words, the younger sister is not totally submissive and retiring.
Maggie and Dee are two sisters born to the same mother but circumstances have resulted in a complete contrast between the two. The differences in their personalities is brought to a sharp focus in their different attitudes to the quilts. Maggie more than Dee would value and permanently treasure the quilts for the following reasons:
1. The quilts have always proved to be a source of comfort and encouragement to Maggie who is described by the mother as "homely and ashamed of the burn scars down her arms and legs, [who is always] eying her sister with a mixture of envy and awe." and a little later as, "she has been like this, chin on chest, eyes on ground, feet in shuffle, ever since the fire that burned the other house to the ground." So a girl like Maggie who is timid and not successful in life like her sister will have great regard for the tradition and the culture of her past.
2. Maggie's roots are deeply and firmly planted in the cultural soil of her family's traditions, unlike Dee who was always ashamed of and hated her rural traditions and upbringing:"she had hated the house that much."Dee was more literate and would constantly read to them about life which the mother and Maggie were not interested in at all : "she washed us in a river of make believe, burned us with a lot of knowledge we didn't necessarily need to know." So, certainly Maggie more than Dee will set more value on the family quilts.
2. Maggie, unlike Dee never "wanted nice things." The quilts would be old and faded and were certainly not "nice" to look at and Dee would not consider them valuable because they were not attractive to look at. Maggie on the other hand would consider them precious and worth preserving for life.
3. Most importantly Dee has changed her name into the African Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo, because her old name "Dee" reminded her of her white colonial masters. Outwardly her reason for changing her name might be politically correct but its certainly not culturally correct. Her entire past is negated because of this name change. Dee's mother traces the family history of that name saying, "though, in fact, I probably could have carried it back beyond the Civil War through the branches." Maggie on the other hand would treasure the quilt not as a mere showpiece but as a treasure trove of the collected memories - both painful and pleasant - of the cultural past of her ancestors.
In Walker's "Everyday Use," Dee, by the time she visits Maggie and her mother, is an urban black woman and represents blacks who moved to cultural centers and became well-educated and articulate.
Maggie is rural, and represents traditional, rural black culture. Maggie's mother is similar to Maggie.
The story reveals these two cultures in conflict, and at the center of the conflict is the different ways the two sisters view their backgrounds and upbringings. To Dee, the home furnishings she wants to take with her are quaint, old-fashioned, and would make nice decorative items. She wants to display them as works of art.
Maggie, as well as the mother, in contrast, want to use the items as they were meant to be used--for everyday use.
Of course, the mother comes down on the side of everyday use when Dee tries to take quilts intended for Maggie, and the story seems to, too. Rural, traditional black culture has a dignity of its own.
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