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

Expert Answers
tmcquade eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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.