What is the main symbol in Walker's "Everyday Use" and how does it enhance the story's theme?
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The meaning of the title requires the reader to read deeper within the short story. The phrase "Everyday Use" brings about the question whether or not heritage should be preserved and displayed or integrated into everyday life. "Everyday Use" pertains not only to the quilt, but more so to people's culture and heritage and how they choose to honor it.
Clearly the major symbol of this great story is to be found in the quilts that Dee so desperately wants. Consider how they are presented in the story:
Out came Wangero with two quilts. They had been pieces by Grandma Dee, and then Big Dee and me had hung them on the quilt frames on the front porch and quilted them. One was in the Lone Star pattern. The other was Walk Around the Mountain. In both of them were scraps of dresses Grandma Dee had worn fifty and more years ago. Bits and pieces of Grandpa Jarrell's paisley shirts. And one teeny faded blue piece, about the size of a penny matchbox, that was from Great Grandpa Ezra's uniform that he wore in the Civil War.
Clearly this description shows both how valuable they are to the narrator but also what a history the include and show of the family. It is clear that the quilts and who they belong to symbolise a far bigger issue regarding the characters of Dee and Maggie, giving the story its title. Note what Dee says when her mother declares she had promised them to Maggie:
"Maggie can't appreciate those quilts!" she said. She'd probably be backward enough to put them to everyday use."
The final decision to give Maggie the quilts is an act of love and of upbuilding of Maggie, for the narrator rejects Dee's rather pushy claim on the quilts and gives them to Maggie instead.
Thus the quilts can be said to symbolise the heritage of the family, but also the love and human spirit of Ma for Maggie as she tries to build her daughter up and show her that she is affirmed and deeply cared for.
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