The short story "Everyday Use" by Alice Walker is told in first person by a poor African American woman who has two daughters. The younger one, Maggie, lives with her. Maggie is simple-minded, shy, self-conscious, and scarred on her arms and legs by a fire that burned down...
The short story "Everyday Use" by Alice Walker is told in first person by a poor African American woman who has two daughters. The younger one, Maggie, lives with her. Maggie is simple-minded, shy, self-conscious, and scarred on her arms and legs by a fire that burned down a house they used to live in.
The older daughter, Dee, is very different from Maggie. She is attractive, intelligent, outspoken, and has managed to overcome her background to become educated and move away from her humble family home.
The story concerns a visit Dee makes to Mama and Maggie. She arrives in a car with a man who may be her boyfriend or her husband. She has obviously gone through a profound change. She is dressed in flamboyant clothes and announces that she has changed her name, saying, "I couldn't bear it any longer, being named after the people who oppress me." Mama tries to explain that Dee is named after several generations of ancestors, but Dee doesn't really grasp it.
We see, then, that there is a great contrast between the simplicity of Mama and Maggie's lifestyles and the more complex and sophisticated outlook of Dee and the man she has brought with her.
When it comes to the family's possessions, the contrast becomes even greater. Dee begins to admire several things that she sees around the house, including the top of a butter churn, a dasher, and some old quilts. To Dee, these items have ornamental value. She wants to put them on display around her house like decorations. In contrast, to Mama and Maggie, these things are for "everyday use." In other words, they are not just to be looked at but rather used to complete their daily chores or, in the case of the quilts, to keep them warm at night.
Dee becomes upset when Mama says she promised Maggie the quilts, because Maggie will use them on a bed rather than hang them up as decorations. By advancing in social and economic status, she has lost the perspective that Mama and Maggie have of seeing possessions for their practical, everyday value.