What are the conflicts based on history and heritage among the characters in Alice Walker's Everyday Use?

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gpane | College Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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The conflict over history and heritage in this story is represented by Mrs Johnson and her daughter Maggie on one side, and her other daughter Dee on the other. Mrs  Johnson and Maggie are living according to old family ways and traditions  but Dee, who received an education in the wider world, has broken away from this to live a new life. In her eyes her mother and sister are very old-fashioned, oppressed by poverty and lack of education,  and still clinging onto the old ways. They in their turn regard her and her new-fangled ideas with suspicion. The quilts become the central symbol of this conflict. Mrs Johnson, who views them simply as practical objects, wants to give them to Maggie when she is married, to use in the home, just as the family has done for generations. Dee however seizes upon them as cultural trophies, to be put on display rather than used. She wants to preserve them as markers of a culture which she now regards as quaint and old-fashioned – in effect, dead -  but her mother and sister want to go using them as part of a still-living cultural  and family tradition.  In the end, their mother awards them to Maggie, who will put them to ‘everyday use’,  to quote the title of the story.

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