What is Dee's present attitude toward her mother and sister, and how does the narrator feel about Dee?

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mwestwood eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Having embraced Cultural Nationalism, Dee has assumed an African name and dons clothing more reflective of African culture. She arrives not so much to visit her mother and sister but to declare her rejection of the oppressed past, a past in which she perceives her mother living. Dee also wants to gather certain objects and artifacts of this past culture as historical artifacts.

Wangero, as Dee now calls herself, wants to take hand-made objects created and used in the family home for generations. However, she does not want to use them practically; she wants to use them as centerpieces or other artistic objects to be displayed. The narrator/mother, however, finds Wangero's attitude about the family heirlooms superficial. Whereas Wangero desires the hand-made quilts so that she can put them on display, her quiet and retiring sister, Maggie, loves the quilts made by her grandmother and other women in the family and would use them. Because Maggie's attachment and respect for the quilts is real and sincere, the mother snatches the homemade quilts from Wangero as she prepares to depart. She hands them to Maggie, thus granting her the role of keeping those items representative of familial love. The mother narrates,

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 into Maggie's lap. Maggie just sat there on my bed with her mouth open.

A disgruntled Dee departs, telling her mother that she does not understand their heritage. After she drives away, the mother and daughter sit together "just enjoying, until it was time to go in the house and go to bed." They share love, not just some artifacts from the past.

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Jessica Akcinar eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Mrs. Johnson feels very disconnected from and uncomfortable around her daughter, Dee. Although she admires Dee as beautiful, stylish, and poised, and sees her as the daughter "who has made it," she makes sure to point out her "faultfinding" and condescending ways. Mama is distrustful of Dee and believes that her superficial daughter was happy when their house burnt down. She sees Dee as cold and selfish. Mama is also a lot more sympathetic towards Maggie and demonstrates these feelings when she takes the quilts from Dee in order to give them to her less successful daughter.

Dee's attitude towards her family has gone from one of shame to one of false admiration. Dee was once embarrassed of her roots, her home, and her family. She now embraces what she believes is her heritage, ironically denying her real background. She changes her name from Dee, a family name, to Wangero, which she believes is more African. She also does not understand the importance of the items her mother and sister still use, but rather sees them as artifacts and believes Maggie to be "backwards" for wanting to use them. Through her words and actions, she demonstrates just how disconnected and out-of-touch she really is when it comes to her family.

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