A family of three women, Dee, Maggie, and Mama have varying personalities and points of view about life.
Having joined the new movement Cultural Nationalism, Dee has changed her name to the ridiculous Wangero, insisting that her own mother call her by this new name. Along with her assumed name, Wangero has adopted a new attitude towards what she once viewed as old, worn out objects in her mother's home. Now, for instance, the old butter churn can be as a centerpiece for the alcove table, and she will use the dasher for something "artistic."
When the mother tells Wangero that she has promised the quilts made by her grandmother and mother, she angrily retorts,
"Maggie can't appreciate these quilts!...She'd probably be backward enough to put them to everyday use....Maggie would put them on the bed and in five years they'd be in rags. Less than that!"
Years ago, when Dee went off to college, she refused one of the quilts, telling her mother they were "old-fashioned, out of style." Now she wants to hang them because they are "priceless" as cultural items.
Maggie is the neglected sister, who has been second-best. She has been burned and is self-conscious; when Dee arrives, Maggie cowers behind their mother. When Dee wants the quilts, Maggie says,
"She can have them, Mama'"...like somebody used to never winning anything or having anything reserved for her. "I can 'member Grandma Dee without the quilts."
When Maggie is given the quilts, she feels victorious and smiles a "real smile, not scared." Her mother has made her feel worthy.
- Mother/Mrs. Johnson
The mother has been living long enough to know what is truly valuable and what is not. Nevertheless, she is self-conscious of her poverty and low social position as she awaits her college-educated daughter's arrival. She is self-conscious about her weight and her house. However, when Dee/Wangero arrives, the mother re-evaluates her apprehensions, finding some of her daughter's ideas artificial and offensive. As she looks at her self-conscious and retiring daughter, Mrs. Johnson narrates that
...something hit me in the top of my head and ran down to the soles of my feet....I did something I never had done before: hugged Maggie to me, then dragged her on into the room, snatched the quilts out of Miss Wangero's hands and dumped them [the quilts] into Maggie's lap.
Mrs. Johnson realizes that Maggie truly appreciates the value of the quilts and other hand-fashioned items in their home. These were all made with the loving hands of family and should, indeed, be a part of "everyday use."