‘A wise person says, "A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s Children.’
In “Everyday Use” by Alice Walker, the story centers on contrasts. Maggie and Dee, the siblings in the story, are completely different in their appearances, values, and principles.
Maggie was seriously injured when the family’s house burned. Dee watched the house burn with a note of satisfaction. Suspicious minds might wonder if Dee had anything to do with the fire since she hated her house. The fire enables Dee to remake her identity.
Maggie is a survivor. Her burns have taken away her self-esteem and confidence. Living at home with her mother enables Maggie to isolate herself away from the staring eyes of the outside world. Unfortunately, this separation from society has left her with no education and severely shy. Even, her walk represents her awkwardness as she shuffles along and hangs back in the doorways of life.
The most important person in Maggie’s life is her mother. Maggie understands everything about her heritage and legacy. She has listened and paid attention to her mother’s stories about the family. Her mother has taught her how to quilt. To Maggie, the quilts that Dee wants to hang on her wall are valuable because they were made by the loving hands of her ancestors.
‘Once our children reach the ages when they spend a lot of time away from home at school, college, or elsewhere, they are barraged with ideas and images.’
Mama has unknowingly favored Dee all of her life. Dee is everything that Maggie is not: pretty, well-educated, selfish, self-confident with a superior attitude. Mama has provided everything that she could to make Dee happy. Mama’s church gave the money for Dee to go away to college. Creating a new legacy, an African legacy provides Dee with a superficial and false sense of heritage when she renames herself dropping a name that has been in her family for four generations. The African name has no relationship to her real heritage.
‘Legacy includes the value of tradition, history, culture, and family honor.
Dee goes one step too far. She tries to take the quilts that were made by her grandmother. These quilts have real value to Maggie and the mother. Maggie has been promised the quilts and reacts strongly when Dee tries to take them. Mama recognizes that Maggie would be gravely hurt if Dee were to take the quilts. Mama says “no” to Dee for the first time. With bitterness, Dee shows her that she has not changed. She reveals herself as unappreciative of her family and her culture.
In a conciliatory effort, Maggie offers the quilts to Dee:
‘She can have them, Mama. I can remember Grandma Dee without the quilts.’
She’d [Maggie] probably be backward enough to put them to everyday use.
Incensed by Dee’s unappreciative attitude toward her family and her culture, Mama lets Dee go and focuses her attention on Maggie.