In "Everyday Use," what are Maggie and Dee's different attitudes toward heritage, and what do quilts symbolize in the story?

In "Everyday Use," Dee views the quilts as vintage art pieces which display her family's past. In contrast, Maggie genuinely appreciates the quilts and views them as living objects, which represent her family's rich heritage. The quilts symbolically represent their family's complex heritage and are traditional items that celebrate their legacy.

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In Alice Walker's short story "Everyday Use ," Dee is portrayed as a supercilious, progressive woman who outwardly embraces her African heritage and is severely critical of Mama and Maggie's rural lifestyle. When Dee returns to Mama's home, she has changed her name to Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo to...

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In Alice Walker's short story "Everyday Use," Dee is portrayed as a supercilious, progressive woman who outwardly embraces her African heritage and is severely critical of Mama and Maggie's rural lifestyle. When Dee returns to Mama's home, she has changed her name to Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo to dissociate herself from the former slave masters who named her ancestors. However, Dee fails to recognize that the family name functions as their identity and has been passed down through generations. Dee also desires to use Mama's family heirlooms as artistic display pieces and views the traditional quilts as priceless artifacts. Her affection for the quilts is not genuine and her perception of her family's history is significantly skewed. She views her heritage as a dead past, which is distant and nostalgic.

Unlike her sister, Dee, Maggie is a timid, unattractive woman who is not educated or ambitious. However, Maggie possesses a solid understanding of her family history and recognizes that her heritage is still very much alive. Maggie attaches sentimental value to the quilts and was taught by Grandma Dee and Big Dee how to quilt. She carries their memory and skills with her, which demonstrates her genuine connection with her heritage. Her willingness to put the traditional quilts to "everyday use" reveals her desire to keep her family's legacy alive.

The quilts symbolically represent Dee and Maggie's rich heritage, which is a patchwork of the past and present. The pattern of the quilts represents their family's complex family history, which spans the course of several generations. The quilts are also a collection of the family's experiences throughout the years and represent their legacy. While Dee has an anesthetized view of the quilts as artistic display items, Maggie cherishes them as living objects that represent their family's ongoing heritage.

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For Dee, heritage is something that is in the past; it is behind us and, therefore, must be preserved. So, she wants to take the churn top and dasher, items that her mother and sister actually do use everyday, so that she can do "artistic" things with them (like make centerpieces). Maggie, on the other hand, thinks of heritage as something that is living, present and current. She and Mama use the items that were made by family members, the benches crafted by Maggie and Dee's father, the dash that was whittled by Henry, called Stash, who was Aunt Dee's first husband, and so forth. On top of that, Maggie knows the stories of these people, who they actually were; Dee does not.

The quilts reinforce and symbolize this difference: Dee doesn't know how to quilt, but she wants to claim them as artifacts to hang on her wall. She thinks that Maggie is "backward" because Maggie would use the quilts and they'd eventually fall apart. However, Maggie knows how to make more quilts—she's actually learned how to do it from her family members who know—and this means that she can use the quilts for the purpose for which they were intended. It's okay if they fall apart because, for Maggie, they don't contain her heritage; instead, she has knowledge of family stories and her knowledge of how to quilt, and these keep her heritage alive and in the present instead of in the past, dead and gone.

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Maggie and Dee hold very different attitudes toward "heritage" in the story "Everyday Use."  For Dee, heritage is something to put on display, to show others who she is and to celebrate where she has come from in a historical sense.  For Maggie, "heritage" is the family she knows and loves, the stories she has been told and remembers, the homemaking skills she has been taught, and the traditions she holds dear.

Dee, now "Wangero," has recently discovered her "heritage" and is trying to make an evident display of it by changing her name, her mannerisms, and her appearance, as well as by collecting old household items that represent that heritage.  This is evident when she first appears on the scene, wearing:

A dress down to the ground, in this hot weather.  A dress so loud it hurts my eyes. There are yellows and oranges enough to throw back the light of the sun.... Earrings gold, too, and hanging down to her shoulders.  Bracelets dangling and making noises ...

Wangero also greets her family with an African greeting, further adding to her glorified "entrance".  She has returned home with the goal of getting some of her mother's possessions to display in her new apartment - including the quilt that her mother has promised to her sister, which Dee had previously thought not good enough for her to take to college.  She wants to display these items - various examples of African folk art - to help her "remember" her African heritage and where she comes from.  To her, this is best shown in "things" rather than actual connections to and memories of people. 

Since Wangero has no real connections to her past, having chosen to leave behind her family and home when she left for school, she can only display her "heritage" through objects on the walls.  She hasn't learned how to quilt, and she doesn't have a lot of personal memories or stories of her grandmother or other family members, so she wants these quilts and other objects to create a rich facade of her "African" past.

Her mother and Maggie both recognize the emptiness in this.  To them, the objects don't just remind them of their race: they remind them of their loved ones.  The quilt reminds them of their grandmother, and they remember her well because they spent time with her and loved her.  Maggie learned to quilt from her.  Wangero has none of these memories or experiences - she can only "remember" with the thing itself.  

Eventually, Maggie, whom her sister had earlier derided, saying she would probably be foolish enough to put the quilt to "everyday use," offers to let Wangero take the quilt, saying she has other ways to remember her grandmother.  But her mother wisely says no and take the quilt away from Wangero.  She rewards Maggie's loyalty by letting her keep this symbol of family and love - whether she puts it to "everyday use" or not. 

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