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Dee and Maggie are sisters in Alice Walker's short story, "Everyday Use." Dee has "found" her African roots, and wants nothing to do with her African-American heritage—passed down by ancestors who worked tirelessly to survive in a foreign land and provide a better life for their children.
Dee is very cosmopolitan, has taken an African name and dresses in authentic African garb. She has been formally educated, while her mother and sister live in the tiny shack "back home." Dee is, without question, a brat. The mother (the narrator) describes Dee.
I used to think she hated Maggie, too. But that was before we raised the money, the church and me, to send her to Augusta to school. She used to read to us...She washed us in a river of make-believe, burned us with a lot of knowledge we didn't need to know. Pressed us to her with the serious way she read, to shove us away at just the moment, like dimwits, we seemed about to understand.
Dee is extremely self-centered, thinking only how her family can serve her needs.
Arriving home, Dee moves through the three-room house to "claim" what she wants for herself—ironically, made by people she does not value because they lived lives of the oppressed.
"Mama," Wangero said sweet as a bird. "Can I have these old quilts?"
..."Why don't you take one or two of the others?" I asked. "These old things was just done by me and Big Dee from some tops your grandma pieced before she died."
"No,' said Wangero. "I don't want those. They are stitched around the borders by machine."
..."Some of the pieces, like those lavender ones, come from old clothes her mother handed down to her," I said, moving up to touch the quilts. Dee...moved back just enough so that I couldn't reach the quilts. They already belonged to her.
Dee's mother has not agreed to give her the quilts, but Dee assumes that she will get what she wants—she dismisses her mother.
Maggie does not have a great deal. Her mother describes her as "nervous;" "homely and ashamed of the burn scars down her arms and legs." The narrator notes:
Have you ever seen a lame animal, perhaps a dog run over by some careless person rich enough to own a car, sidle up to someone who is ignorant enough to be kind to him? That is the way my Maggie walks.
Maggie sees Dee with "envy and awe." She feels that Dee has never been told "no." Maggie is not bright or pretty. However, it is Maggie that the narrator now thinks about.
"The truth is," I said, "I promised to give them quilts to Maggie..."
[Dee] gasped like a bee had stung her.
"Maggie can't appreciate these quilts!" she said. "She'd probably be backward enough to put them to everyday use."
Years before Dee had rejected them as "old-fashioned, out of style." Now they are "priceless."
Dee (Wangero) looked at me with hatred. "You just will not understand."
"Well...What would you do with them?"
"Hang them," she said. As if that was the only thing you could do with quilts.
Dee treats her mother badly. How could any thing be more important that respecting her mother?
The quilts are valuable to Dee because they are stylish heirlooms; but they are priceless to Maggie because they connect her to her grandma and the past. Using them everyday would show her love of the women who have come before her. Dee has no concern for the women who have worked to give her the life she now has. Ironically, Dee tries to tell her family that they don't understand their heritage: she has it all backwards.
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