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In "Everyday Use" by Alice Walker, there is a paradox in the portion of the story where Dee argues to get heirloom quilts that the narrator (her mother) had promised to her other daughter, Maggie.
First, a paradox is a statement that at first seems self-contradictory and/or untrue. In Shakespeare's Macbeth, a main theme is "fair is foul and foul is fair." These means good things are bad and bad things are good. This seems impossible, however, throughout the play people who seem good are evil, and those accused of being evil are good.
Dee has rejected her family's heritage and has adopted her race's heritage—she has taken an African name and adopted an African manner of dress. With regard to society, things that matter to her are material in nature. While she admires African folk art, she rejects society's enslavement of the ancestors who made the pieces. This is paradoxical.
Dee descends upon mother and sister's home and begins to snatch up different household items (the churn top and the kitchen benches). The fact that the pieces show impressions of the hands and bodies that have used them means nothing in terms of Dee's history—she simply feels they will look good in her own home. However, the reader can tell that the narrator is connected to these "family treasures:"
When she finished wrapping the dasher the handle stuck out. I took it for a moment in my hands. You didn't have to look close to see where hands pushing the dasher up and down to make butter had left a kind of sink in the wood...you could see where thumbs and fingers had sunk into the wood.
This is lost on Dee. When the question of the quilts comes up, Dee argues that she should have them rather than Maggie. Dee believes that Maggie, being a little slow and uneducated, could never appreciate the quilts as she would. Dee insists they are priceless—monetarily speaking. Dee's mother asks:
What would you do with them?
"Hang them," she said. As if that was the only thing you could do with quilts.
Maggie decides that she isn't going to fight her sister for the quilts.
"She can have them, Mama," she said, like somebody used to never winning anything, or having anything reserved for her. "I can 'member Grandma Dee without the quilts."
When the question of the quilts arises, the narrator recalls that she had offered one of the quilts to Dee when she went away to college, but her daughter had refused, saying...
...they were old-fashioned, out of style.
Now, however, Dee believes she has a better understanding of the value of things than Maggie. At first one might believe this to be true because society often promotes the idea that educated people are smarter than those who are not. Maggie, however, is truly more intelligent for she, without "formal" schooling, knows the real value of the quilts made by her grandmother. The heritage that Dee has rejected is what makes the pieces truly "priceless."
Another contradiction we find with Dee is that she originally saw the quilts as worthless. Now she understands the "cosmopolitan" value of old pieces, but not the intrinsic, historical and family value of quilts she had originally rejected.
It is also paradoxical that Dee would never think to use these things for "everyday" use because of their material value. Their true value, though, is using them every day to remain connected to their family's ancestors.
Determined and ambitious, Dee has left home after receiving an education that was provided by the church of her childhood. For, since girlhood, Dee has been determined to leave her humble beginnings. Now, as an assertive African-American woman Dee has assumed the name Wangero and arrives with a short, stocky man with dreadlocks who greets the mother and is named Asalamalakim. Dee, who now calls herself Wangero, exercises a heretofore foreign attitude about some of the items in her mother's home. For instance, after dinner Dee goes to the trunk by her mother's bed and digs through it until she finds some old quilts. Having pulled two quilts out, Wangero asks if she may have them.
It seems paradoxical that Wangero [Dee] should want these quilts that she formerly held in disdain along with the rest of the home from which she fled. When her mother suggests that she take others, instead, Wangero insists that she wants only those two that have not been hemmed by machine. She moves back so that her mother cannot reach them and hugs them to herself, saying "Imagine!" Suddenly, now, handmade things are valuable to Dee. This attitude is, indeed, in contrast to the young modern who left home to go to school. When the mother informs Dee that she has promised them to Maggie, Dee exclaims,
"Maggie can't appreciate these quilts!....She'd probably be backward enough to put them to everyday use."
"I reckon she would," the mother says. "God knows I been saving 'em for long enough with nobody using 'em. I hope she will!"
The mother as narrator says that she did not want to bring up how she had offered Dee a quilt when she went away to college. Then Dee had refused, saying that they were "old-fashioned, out of style." But, now, since heirlooms are popular Dee wants them. Indeed, the mother finds Dee's reaction rather contradictory to how she felt a few years ago.
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