How is character significant in the short story "Everyday Use" by Alice Walker?  

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Character is significant in "Everyday Use" because Alice Walker embodies two different attitudes toward family, heritage, and culture through the distinction between Dee/Wangero and Maggie (spoken for through her mother, the narrator).

The conflict between these characters is foregrounded early on, as we learn that the sisters' lives have gone in two vastly different directions. Dee has returned home from college, and her advanced education and relationship with Asalamalakim have led her to change her philosophy on Black identity. She wants to go by the name Wangero and criticizes her family members for "being named after the people who oppress [them]." While Dee/Wangero wants to disown the part of her heritage associated with slavery, she has come to a greater appreciation of the cultural work of her forebears. This leads her to praise her grandmother's quilts and demand that she be given them so she can display them in her home. Wangero sees her potential use for the quilts as an act of respect and admiration for the craft.

Her sister, Maggie, on the other hand, has learned to quilt, and their mother has promised the quilts to Maggie as a wedding present. Maggie has stayed home with her mother after being maimed in a house fire when she was younger. She is exceedingly reserved and meek, and the women's mother speaks on Maggie's behalf and feels the need to defend and protect her. When Dee hears that Maggie will inherit the quilts, she is mortified, exclaiming,

Maggie can't appreciate these quilts! ... She'd probably be backward enough to put them to everyday use.

The irony of this remark is that the quilts are intended for "everyday use," and Maggie appreciates them in her own, authentic way. Maggie is also the true keeper of the family history because she is the one who has learned the craft of quilting and who continues the tradition.

The characters, due to their disparate personalities and experiences, will never see the quilts the same way, so the characterization of each sister drives the conflict of the story and ultimately suggests that Walker, too, approves of the "everyday use" of the grandmother's beautiful handmade quilts.

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