Describe Mama's relationship with Dee in "Everyday Use."

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droxonian eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Mama's relationship with Dee in this story is complex, and the reader senses that it has always been difficult. The way Mama remembers Dee as a child—particularly her memory of Dee's "look of concentration" as she watched their first house burn down—suggests that she has never particularly liked or understood Dee, although she does love her. Mama's sympathies lie with her other daughter, Maggie, and because she "used to think Dee hated Maggie too," Mama's protectiveness of Maggie seems to have increased her wariness of Dee.

Dee's education seems to have furthered the wedge between herself and her family, Mama feeling that she and Maggie sat "trapped and ignorant underneath her voice." The more educated Dee becomes, the more her mother feels distanced from her. We know that Mama wants to support Dee in her choices—when Dee announces that she has changed her name, Mama is supportive of this choice, although she doesn't understand it: "If that's what you want us to call you, we'll call you." However, it is clear that Mama feels rejected and baffled by the fact that Dee has chosen to hark back to an African heritage beyond living memory, while in the process rejecting the years of heritage represented by all the Dees who have preceded her in Mama's family. Dee is searching for her heritage, but all her education seems to have led her to look straight past the fact that her mother is the strongest link to that heritage she has.

In her act of removing the quilts from Dee's hands and giving them to Maggie, Mama exerts her will in an act of independence against her daughter's overbearing sense of her own cleverness which, one suspects, has been brewing for some time.

linda-allen eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Dee can be called the antithesis of Mama: They are opposites in every way. Mama is fat; Dee is thin. Mama is uneducated; Dee has a college degree. Mama loves both of her daughters, but we sense that Mama dislikes Dee; she knows that Dee is embarrassed by her--the way she looks, the way she talks, the way she lives. Dee thinks she is honoring her heritage by assuming an African-sounding name and using old quilts as wall hangings (but don't you think she'll sell them?). She has forgotten that Mama and Maggie are part of her heritage too.