In American culture, what does a patchwork quilt symbolize?

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beateach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In “Everyday Use” by Alice Walker, the quilt is a symbolic family heirloom. Mrs. Johnson and her daughter Maggie agree that it represents snippets of life from past generations. The handmade quilt was lovingly pieced by the grandmother and stitched by Big Dee using swatches of shirts, dresses, and even a piece of their grandfather’s Civil War uniform. Mrs. Johnson has been saving the quilts for Maggie who learned to quilt from her grandmother. When Dee, Maggie’s older sister, arrives home to visit the world she left behind when she went off to school, she tries to take the quilts. She says she will hang them up as a sign of her heritage. Maggie tells her to take them but Mrs. Johnson gives them to Maggie, who she hopes will put them to “everyday use,” keeping the family memories alive instead of hanging them on a wall as a museum piece. They are unique to their family, therefore are symbolic of their family heritage and memories, not the heritage of a whole race, which is what Dee suggests.