It can be argued that Dee (Wangero) reacts to the objects and foods in her mother's house with seeming wonder and admiration. On the surface, Dee's bubbly demeanor is infectious; she is extravagant in her praise for the heirloom quilts, the churn top, and the dasher.
However, all is not as it seems. Dee's new alter-ego is Wangero, and she makes it known to her mother and sister that Wangero is unabashedly cosmopolitan, empowered, and enlightened. Alice Walker uses the character of Dee to portray those in the Black Power movement who, in the journey to rediscover their African heritage, unintentionally marginalize their African-American peers.
Although Walker understands the desire of those in the Black Power movement to reclaim their rightful legacy in Africa, she disagrees with their tendency to trivialize the sacrifices of African-Americans on American soil. Historical records indicate that a substantial number of African-Americans fought on the side of the North in the Civil War; still many others participated in peaceful resistance against the Jim Crow laws and others fought to secure freedoms for all during the two major world wars. In the story, Alice Walker alludes to African-American sacrifice by highlighting the rich history of the quilts:
In both of them were scraps of dresses Grandma Dee had worn fifty and more years ago. Bits and pieces of Grandpa Jattell's Paisley shirts. And one teeny faded blue piece, about the size of a penny matchbox, that was from Great Grandpa Ezra's uniform that he wore in the Civil War.
For her part, Dee (Wangero) decides to relegate her mother and her sister, Maggie, to the outer fringes of her new consciousness; to her, their seemingly wilful ignorance and dangerous sentimentalism offends her present sensibilities. Unmindful of Maggie's feelings, Dee aims to appropriate the quilts for herself, maintaining that Maggie will "probably be backward enough to put them to everyday use," if the quilts are left in her care. Maggie, quiet and patient, decides that she will not argue with her flamboyant and beautiful sister.
"She can have them, Mama," she said, like somebody used to never winning anything, or having anything reserved for her. "I can 'member Grandma Dee without the quilts."
Because of her injuries, Maggie has always taken a back seat to Dee's more extroverted personality; additionally, in light of Dee's new identity, Maggie finds herself intimidated into subservience. For her part, although Mama is proud of Dee, she is also irritated and hurt by Dee's assumed, superior attitude towards her and Maggie. Mama knows that Dee has always been materialistic; yet, coupled with her stubborn new focus on an idealized Africa, Mama fears that Dee has forgotten to cherish all that the African-American experience encompasses.
Dee wanted nice things. A yellow organdy dress to wear to her graduation from high school; black pumps to match a green suit she’d made from an old suit somebody gave me. She was determined to stare down any disaster in her efforts. Her eyelids would not flicker for minutes at a time. Often I fought off the temptation to shake her. At sixteen she had a style all her own: and knew what style was.
Through Dee, Maggie, and Mama, Alice Walker makes the point that African-Americans should embrace all of their history, including the unpleasant parts. In the end, our sympathies may rest with Maggie and Mama, as they stand together in solidarity against Dee's encroaching arrogance and obvious contempt.
"You just don't understand," she said, as Maggie and I came out to the car.
"What don't I understand?" I wanted to know.
"Your heritage," she said, And then she turned to Maggie, kissed her, and said, "You ought to try to make something of yourself, too, Maggie. It's really a new day for us. But from the way you and Mama still live, you'd never know it."
Maggie smiled; maybe at the sunglasses. But a real smile, not scared. After we watched the car dust settle, I asked Maggie to bring me a dip of snuff. And then the two of us sat there just enjoying, until it was time to go in the house and go to bed.