What conflict exists between Maggie and Dee even before Dee arrives?
Even before Dee arrives, we sense the underlying conflict between her and her sister Maggie.
A major reason for the conflict between Dee and Maggie is superficial in nature. The narrator reveals that Maggie has burn scars on her arms and legs, while Dee is seemingly perfect in every way. As the narrator describes, Dee is the quintessential, feminine woman that most men find attractive: she is slim, has beautiful hair, and sports a full figure. Dee is also sophisticated, intelligent, and flamboyant. Meanwhile, Maggie struggles to read, has poor eyesight, and possesses less sexual allure than Dee. So, the conflict between the sisters is often precipitated by the differences in their physical makeup.
Additionally, Dee's obvious physical beauty and quick mind have made her proud. As we read the story, we see that Dee has great contempt for Maggie. When their mother proclaims that the quilts have been set aside for Maggie as her marriage portion, Dee is furious. She maintains that Maggie has little appreciation for their true value and is adamant that she can put them to better use than her sister. Dee implies that she alone possesses the skill and the refinement to properly care for the quilts.
Dee's brash and contemptuous manner is another reason for the conflict between her and Maggie, even before she arrives.
It seems that Dee and Maggie have never been close; they really have very little in common. Maggie feels that Dee has always gotten whatever she wants, and Dee really has no respect for Maggie and her way of life (with their mother). Dee has always been embarrassed by their home, and Maggie finds comfort there. Anticipating Dee's visit, Mama says that Maggie will spend the time "eyeing her sister with a mixture of envy and awe. She thinks her sister has held life always in the palm of one hand, that 'no' is a word the world never learned to say to her." Dee has always gotten whatever she wanted: their first house, that she hated, burned down; she got to go away to school; she got fancy clothes and shoes, and so on. Maggie also remembers the way Dee used to treat her and Mama when she lived at home, or when she would visit, and she is clearly made nervous by the prospect of seeing her sister again. Dee barely even seems to acknowledge her sister's presence, and she seems to think that her education and intellect make her better than Maggie and her mother. This conflict has existed ever since Dee used to "burn [them] with knowledge" as a child.