Since Mama is the protagonist in "Everyday Use," what is it that she wants?

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andrewnightingale eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It is apparent from the outset that Mama wants just the best for her family. When she speaks about her children, Dee and Maggie, her tone is one of love and care. She is, however, cynical about Dee's attitude. Although she does not directly criticize Dee's rejection of her culture and heritage, she does suggest her displeasure. The somewhat mocking tone she adopts when she speaks about Dee's hairstyle, her clothes, her new name, and her partner, makes it evident that she is not at all happy with her oldest child.

From this one can infer that Mama wants Dee to be more respectful of her heritage. Although she is proud of Dee's success, she would be grateful if her daughter were appreciative of her culture and their simple lifestyle. What she gets though is a supercilious attitude. Dee sees her mother and sister as backward, while she deems herself and her partner as progressive.  

Mama also wants Dee to be less materialistic and to appreciate their household items for their history and usefulness. When Dee claims the churn and two quilts as items for display Mama unusually rejects her demand for the quilts in particular. She does something that she has probably never done before. She takes the quilts from Dee and gives them to Maggie who has been promised the items as wedding gifts. This act also indicates that Mama wants Maggie to be happy. She apparently does not want her shy and introverted younger to feel second to Dee, as has been her habit throughout their lives.

It is also apparent that Mama wants to continue enjoying a comfortable, peaceful existence. She does not much enjoy the kind of disruption that Dee's visit has brought. This desire for calm and harmony is clearly indicated in her closing remark.

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.

favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Mama seems to want peace in her home and within her family.  She fantasizes about a talk-show reunion with her estranged daughter, Dee, wishing that she could be lighter-skinned, thinner, more articulate, so that she could make her daughter proud.  Initially, Mama seems to rank mending her relationship with Dee above appreciating her relationship with her other daughter, Maggie.  Maggie's always around, and so her presence isn't elusive or particularly notable because Mama always has it. 

When Dee comes home, Mama does her best to give her the things she wants, including hand-made family items that Mama and Maggie still actually use in their everyday life.  However, one sees that it's true that Dee is really never told "no."  Mama seems to want to appease Dee, even being willing to call her a different name rather than the family name she already has. 

Once Dee insults Maggie, though, demanding the quilts she once rejected and even holding them out of Mama's reach, Mama seems to realize that she has been putting too much stock in earning Dee's approval.  She snatches the quilts from her and gives them to Maggie, as Maggie was promised.  Dee storms off, leaving Mama and Maggie to sit outside and revel in the tranquility of the house without Dee's presence in it.  She has peace at last.