In "Everyday Use" by Alice Walker, what is the main conflict?

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belarafon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Alice Walker's "Everyday Use" is a classic short story from 1973.

The main conflict in the story is between materialism, representing the New, and tradition, representing the Old. The culminating event of the story occurs at the end, when Dee, the materialistic sister, fights with her mother about the distribution of family quilts:

"Maggie can't appreciate these quilts!" she said. "She'd probably be backward enough to put them to everyday use."

"I reckon she would," I said. "God knows I been saving 'em for long enough with nobody using 'em. I hope she will!" I didn't want to bring up how I had offered Dee (Wangero) a quilt when she went away to college. Then she had told they were old-fashioned, out of style.

"But they're priceless!" she was saying now, furiously; for she has a temper. "Maggie would put them on the bed and in five years they'd be in rags. Less than that!"

"She can always make some more," I said. "Maggie knows how to quilt."

Dee (Wangero) looked at me with hatred. "You just will not understand. The point is these quilts, these quilts!"

"Well," I said, stumped. "What would you do with them?"

"Hang them," she said. As if that was the only thing you could do with quilts.
(Walker, "Everyday Use,"

Dee, in her drive to forget her past and embrace the progressive future, has already changed her name (the parenthetical Wangero) to distance herself from her family. Here, she wishes to receive the quilts she rejected in her youth so she can hang them and show off her cultural heritage to friends -- but without actually living the heritage. Her mother, the narrator, wants the quilts to be used for their real purpose, as blankets to keep people warm, not as decorations where they will be examined and exclaimed over like museum pieces. Dee cares only about her superficial outward appearance; her mother and Maggie care about their inner knowledge and heritage, and Maggie will make new quilts when these fall apart. Dee, however, would be forced to buy new ones, since she has no real concept of her heritage.