What is the main conflict in "Everyday Use" by Alice Walker?
The basic conflict in this story is Maggie's knowledge of every day things and her intention to use them for their purposes, and her sister (Dee), who considers herself more worldly and educated and who thinks these every day things should be hung up and admired as antiques.
Maggie is not stupid, but she is scarred from a housefire, and her confidence is lacking. She is a humble, loving, and simple person who adores her mother and just wants to live. She knows how to sew, quilt, and make butter like her mother and grandmother.
Her sister is lovely, has gone off to school, treats both Maggie and her mother as beneath her...almost embarrassing because of their simple and backward ways. She is arrogant, not used to being told "no," and suddenly aware of her African roots as she indicates in her dress and her boyfriend who has adopted an African name than no one can pronounce.
Maggie is quiet and is used to giving in to her sister. When her sister insists on the quilts that her mother has already promised to give Maggie as a wedding gift, Maggie slams the kitchen door to show her anger. She does finally come back into the house resigned to give her sister her wedding quilts. However, Mother finally stands up to Dee and tells her she can not take Maggie's quilts.
The main conflict in Alice Walker's short story "Everyday Use" might be seen as the choice that the mother needs to make in how she treats her two very different daughters. To me, the mother-as-narrator calls attention to her central role in the main conflict, and the use of the phrase "everyday use" calls attention to the two daughters' different views of the quilts and other family heirlooms.
As might be expected in this conflict, the reader is prompted to take sides, too. I have the strong impression that most readers side with Maggie and believe that she, not Dee, truly knows how to value the family heirlooms and the heritage that they represent. All it takes are a few questions, though -- such as "Is it always wrong to protect unique and irreplaceable quilts from the wear and tear of 'everyday use'?" or "Is it always wrong to leave home when you grow up and to make deliberate, conscious changes in how you live your life?" -- to challenge the oversimplified view that one daughter is correct and the other is wrong in all things.
Another way of phrasing that main conflict is to consider it in terms of identity, the ways in which our culture constructs it and we search for it. In this way, the dominant internal conflict is the individual asking herself "who am I?" Within each of us different ideas of who we are compete with each other, and Walker would argue this is particularly true for black women. In an interview Walker says that she thinks Dee (a photographer and collector of art and even creates herself as a work of art), Maggie (the quilt maker, symbolic of traditional women's art), and mama, who narrates the story are all artists, and all represent herself split into 3 parts conflicting with each other. For Walker as a writer, "Everyday Use" is the story of the conflicts within her to develop her own identity and become the writer that she is.
In the short story "Everyday Use" the main conflict appears to be over which daughter will get the quilt. However, the underlying conflict is the two daughter’s competition for their mother's love. The quilt is a symbol of the mother's love and acceptance of her child and of the value that is placed on the relationship.
The story is about two daughters. One daughter is intelligent, went off to college and has become successful. Her mother is very proud of her and often brags about the daughter's accomplishments. She lives in a distant city. The daughter comes home for a visit. The mother gets excited.
The second daughter is shy and simple. She was badly burned as a child and has scars over her arms and legs. She lives with her mother and is very timid around her older sister. The girl does not have much of a sense of self worth and is like a dot on the rug when compared to her sister. She is nervous about her sister's visit because it reflects who she isn't.
The sister visits and sees the quilt. It is old but beautiful. It is a symbol of the family heritage in her eyes, but it is also a symbol of materialism. She asks her mother for the quilt so that she can hang it in her home as a decoration. Quilts have become popular things to exhibit in one's home. Her mother hesitates as she is uncertain which daughter should have the quilt.
Her shy child wants the quilt but would not ever imagine that she would have it given to her. Her sister, Dee seems to always attain what she inspires to get. The mother looks at her girls and decides to give the quilt to her daughter that lives with her. Dee argues that it will just get used and she would provide it with protection as it hangs on the wall.
Dee's mother wants the quilt to be used as a cover by her child. She identifies the quilt as having been meant to be used as an everyday thing. By giving it to her shy daughter she increases the daughter’s sense of self-worth. She has been given her mother's love through her mother's decision to give her the quilt. She has chosen her over Dee.
The basic conflict in this story can be viewed as a few diffferent things. It can depend on how you read the story. A person may say that a conflict is that of approval. Mama does not approve of the way Dee lives. Yet she is happy with her daughter Maggie. A conflict can also be as simple as which daughter should get the quilts.
The conflict is in the different points of view regarding the value and importance of objects, specifically; preservation of heritage vs. every day use. Mrs. Johnson and Maggie have a different perspective on the value of household items than Dee does. For example, Dee believes that the quilts should be preserved and displayed as a symbol/representation of the family’s heritage while Mrs. Johnson and Maggie believe that the quilts are more useful for what they were made for: to make their bed, keep warm, and sleep with.
I think the basic conflict in "Everyday Use" is based on the difference of values between Dee and Mama. Mama rejects her elder daugher, Dee's superficial values; in contrast, Dee thinks her mother is too conservative and old-fashion. Dee shows frivolous attitude toward their African culture while her mother shows great respect.
The basic conflict in this story is Maggie's knowledge of every day things