Describe Dee Johnson's character in "Everyday Use" by Alice Walker. 

Expert Answers info

carol-davis eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2004

write1,291 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, Social Sciences, and History

Dee Johnson superficially searches for her African heritage.  In “Everyday Use” by Alice Walker, the author suggests Dee’s search for her heritage is artificial.  Despite her education, Dee has no appreciation of her true inheritance.

Throughout her life, Dee was the pretty and intelligent Johnson girl. Her attitude toward her sister and mother was negative.  To Dee, her home and her family were an embarrassment. When her house burned, Dee stood and watched rather than show concern for her sister Maggie who was severely injured.

While she lived at home, Dee would read to her mother and sister, but not for their enjoyment but to make them feel her superiority.  Mama’s church provides the money for Dee’s education which she appears not to really appreciate. During and after her time in college, Dee never visited her home because she was ashamed of her family. 

The story centers on Dee’s return visit. Both her mother and sister anticipate her coming by sitting out on the lawn awaiting her arrival. The visit is nothing like what her mother had hoped for in her dreams.  Dee has changed her name to Wangero, a black muslin name. Everything about her is shiny and yet unreal. She tells her mother that Dee is dead, despite the fact that she was named after her grandmother.  Naturally, Dee has ulterior motives for her visit. 

“Oh, Mama,” she cried.  “I never knew how lovely these benches are.  You can feel the rump prints,” she said…Then she gave a sigh and her hand closed over Grandma’s Dee butter dish.  “That’s it. I knew there was something I wanted to ask you if I could have.”


Dee has always wanted something.  With no regard for her mother, Dee wants to take things that have come from her relatives.  Lacking in respect and with no genuine understanding of the importance of the things that her mother has saved, Dee places no value on her mother’s things as a part of her family legacy. Dee wants what she wants and that is to decorate her house with the black heritage items so that it will be fashionable.    

When Dee rummages through her mother’s trunk, her attitude shines through. When she left for school, her mother offered her a quilt which Dee refused.  Now she wants to take the quilts that were handmade by her grandmother and mother. 

They are important to Maggie and her mother because they understand that the cloth came from clothes of their loved ones all the way back to the civil war.  In addition, the grandmother who made the quilt was the one for which Dee was unnamed.  Dee just wants to hang the quilts on the wall.

For the first time, her mother refuses her something.  Mama tells her that she promised the quilts to Maggie. Shocked, Dee is immediately antagonistic.

“Maggie can’t appreciate these quilts!” she said.  “She’d probably be backward enough to put them to everyday use.” 

Dee is so incensed that her mother will not give into her that she decides to leave.  Ironically, she tells her family that they do not understand their heritage. She tells her sister that she ought to try to do something with her life.

Then, she gets in the car and leaves.  In her selfishness, Dee has shown herself to completely lack in respect and consideration for her mother or sister. Her actions and gestures indicate that her only reason for coming home was to take things with no thought of the hurt that she might inflict.

Further Reading:

check Approved by eNotes Editorial