How are the lives of the three female characters in Alice Walker's "Everyday Use" symbolic, and how are they significant to the theme of the story?

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Alice Walker's short story "Everyday Use" examines the lives of black women in rural America in the 1960s. The story addresses the pivotal moment the African-American community was facing as it re-evaluated its identity amidst changing times. 

There are three female characters in the story: a mother and two daughters, Dee and Maggie. Each woman in the story represents a facet of the choice African American women faced at that moment in history.

Maggie is the younger daughter who still lives at home with her mother. She is soon to be married and partakes in familial traditions, such as sewing quilts. Maggie represents a woman who has chosen to keep African-American traditions alive and close as she moves into adulthood. 

Dee is the daughter who has moved out of the house and is with a Muslim man. She is in the process of redefining her identity. Instead of embracing her rural heritage, she is distancing herself from it. She instead chooses to identify with African tribal heritage in a movement known as Cultural Nationalism. She has changed her name from Dee to Wangero. At birth, she was named after her Grandma Dee. The fact that she is deciding to no longer identify with that familial name illustrates the way she is distancing herself from her roots. Dee represents the choice to distance the past rather than keep it close.

The mother serves as the entity which can observe these two daughters and two choices at once, then make a decision between them. Walker's choice to use first person narration creates a vehicle to invite the reader into the decision between the daughters. Walker ends the story with the mother deciding to give the quilts to Maggie. With this ending, Walker shows that the better path for African-American women is to keep tradition close, rather than put it at a distance.

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