What is the main conflict in "Everyday Use" by Alice Walker?
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In the short story "Everyday Use" the main conflict appears to be over which daughter will get the quilt. However, the underlying conflict is the two daughter’s competition for their mother's love. The quilt is a symbol of the mother's love and acceptance of her child and of the value that is placed on the relationship.
The story is about two daughters. One daughter is intelligent, went off to college and has become successful. Her mother is very proud of her and often brags about the daughter's accomplishments. She lives in a distant city. The daughter comes home for a visit. The mother gets excited.
The second daughter is shy and simple. She was badly burned as a child and has scars over her arms and legs. She lives with her mother and is very timid around her older sister. The girl does not have much of a sense of self worth and is like a dot on the rug when compared to her sister. She is nervous about her sister's visit because it reflects who she isn't.
The sister visits and sees the quilt. It is old but beautiful. It is a symbol of the family heritage in her eyes, but it is also a symbol of materialism. She asks her mother for the quilt so that she can hang it in her home as a decoration. Quilts have become popular things to exhibit in one's home. Her mother hesitates as she is uncertain which daughter should have the quilt.
Her shy child wants the quilt but would not ever imagine that she would have it given to her. Her sister, Dee seems to always attain what she inspires to get. The mother looks at her girls and decides to give the quilt to her daughter that lives with her. Dee argues that it will just get used and she would provide it with protection as it hangs on the wall.
Dee's mother wants the quilt to be used as a cover by her child. She identifies the quilt as having been meant to be used as an everyday thing. By giving it to her shy daughter she increases the daughter’s sense of self-worth. She has been given her mother's love through her mother's decision to give her the quilt. She has chosen her over Dee.
The main conflict in Alice Walker's short story "Everyday Use" might be seen as the choice that the mother needs to make in how she treats her two very different daughters. To me, the mother-as-narrator calls attention to her central role in the main conflict, and the use of the phrase "everyday use" calls attention to the two daughters' different views of the quilts and other family heirlooms.
As might be expected in this conflict, the reader is prompted to take sides, too. I have the strong impression that most readers side with Maggie and believe that she, not Dee, truly knows how to value the family heirlooms and the heritage that they represent. All it takes are a few questions, though -- such as "Is it always wrong to protect unique and irreplaceable quilts from the wear and tear of 'everyday use'?" or "Is it always wrong to leave home when you grow up and to make deliberate, conscious changes in how you live your life?" -- to challenge the oversimplified view that one daughter is correct and the other is wrong in all things.
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