"Everyday Use" by Alice Walker explains the importance of family relationships. Mama or Mrs. Johnson narrates the story. She is an uneducated yet hardworking African-American mother of two daughters. She describes herself:
I am a large, big boned woman with rough, man working hands. I can kill and clean a hog as mercilessly as a man. My daughter [Dee] would like for me to be 100 pounds lighter and my skin like an uncooked barley pancake.
Events in the story are going to force Mama to reevaluate her attitude toward her daughters. As a dynamic character, she will change and stand up for one daughter and refuse the other one for the first time in her life.
Mama's daughter are as different as night and day. Dee, the oldest, did not like her home. She is pretty and intelligent. Dee wanted the things in life that Mama could not give her. The church and her mother sent her to college. Today, in the story, she has come back for a visit.
The youngest daughter Maggie was severely injured when their house burned. Since that time, Maggie has become extremely shy and nervous when she is around other people. She anxiously awaits her sister's arrival. They have nothing in common.
Mama is faced with new issues when Dee arrives. Trying to buy into the African-American black power movement, Dee has changed her name to Wangero. Mama accepts how Dee is dressed and her new name. It is Dee's attitude that gets to Mama.
Dee is on the prowl. Despite the fact that she told her mother when she left, that her things were old-fashioned, Dee wants souvenirs to use as decorations in her home. The top of the butter churn which has the hand prints of the many ancestors who had used it.
After rummaging through a trunk, Dee finds two quilts that had been made by Dee's great-grandmother, grandmother, and her mother. There were pieces of material that went back to the Civil War. These quilts were important to Mama because of the legacy they represented of Mama's family.
Dee is so superficial. She makes statements that show her misunderstanding of her family:
'Dee is dead. I couldn't beat the name any longer, being named after the people who oppress me.'
And yet, she wants the quilt that those oppressive people made.
Mama has had enough of Dee's foolishness. She tells her that she cannot have the quilts becfause she has given them to Maggie. Reacting to this denial, Dee states that Maggie will just make everyday use of them and ruin them. Mama does not care. Dee does not appreciate the family heritage. Maggie offers to give them to Dee, but Mama says the quilts will stay.
For the first time, the mother really looks at Maggie. Maggie had been taught by the grandmothers to quilt and that she understands that the family is the most important thing in life.
Mama sees that Maggie is kind and gentle. She goes to Maggie and hugs her. They both grab the quilts from Dee. As they both watch Dee drive away, Mama has a new appreciation for her younger daughter. Mama will gladly sit on the front porch with her snuff and Maggie.