What does the quilt say about the characters in the short story "Everyday Use"?

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M.P. Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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The story "Everyday Use" by Alice Walker presents the dynamics of a family of three African American women. Although the women are related, their individual life journeys have made them very different one from the other.  Yet, one thing seems to bring them together: the family quilt.

The quilt represents the different perspectives of family, life, tradition, and culture that exist within each of the women. Dee, one of the daughters, has “made it” in life and now lives in the city. As part of her transformation, she undergoes a form of conversion in which she claims to be closer to her African roots. She even changes her name to Wangero, as a way to refuse to have a name like Dee, which reminds her of the “people who oppress her.” As part of this transformation, she also requests family heirlooms to take with her back to the city. She sets her eyes on the family quilt because it has a lot of history:  Her wounded ancestors were comforted in it, babies were cared for with it, and it has changed as the family itself has changed. The quilt was intended for the other sister, Maggie, who was about to get married. Dee (Wangero) truly felt that she was more deserving of the quilt because her entire circle of city friends would treat it as a museum piece. Unfortunately, her desire for these heirlooms is nothing but a wish to make a fashion statement for her own caprice. 

Although Maggie allowed Dee to keep the quilt, she did it because of the loyalty she feels for her sister, and because she did not feel worthy of the heirloom. Contrastingly, Dee cared little about loyalty or the preservation of family history and was willing to take the heirloom just for its material value.

When Mama finally made her choice, she gave it to Maggie. It was precisely because she noticed the value and love that Maggie still had for her family which made her more worthy of such a symbol of family unity as was the quilt. Therefore, love and unity triumphed, ever against the changing times.

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