Describe the sisters and the biggest difference between them in "Everyday Use" by Alice Walker.

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Dee and Maggie Johnson are siblings that have a strained relationship.  In “Everyday Use” by Alice Walker, a tragic fire in their home forever changes the sisters.  The story takes place in a small town in the south during the late 1960s. The Civil Rights movement was in full swing and many of the urban African-
Americans have discovered the Black Muslim search for identity.

Most Compelling Difference

The sisters are as different as night and day.  Maggie has no self-confidence and still likes living at home with her mother. Dee has great self-esteem;however,  she despised living her home in the midst of poverty. 

MAGGIE

Maggie, the youngest sister, was burned severely when her family home burned. This tragic incident damaged Maggie’s self-esteem and attitude toward life.  Now a pessimist, Maggie expects things to go wrong. 

The narrator Maggie’s mother describes her daughter as not bright.  Not much is expected from Maggie.  She shuffles when she walks with her chin on her chest since she was burned.

After her sister left, Maggie stays with her mother.  Her mother seems indifferent to her.Yet, her mother learns that Maggie appreciates her heritage, her ancestors, and the things that her mother values.  This not evident until Dee, the other daughter, comes home. 

The sisterly relationship is not good.  Maggie dislikes Dee’s superior attitude.  She dreads Dee’s visit. When Dee wants to take the quilts and her mother says “no,” Maggie offers the quilts to Dee anyway even though they are important to her.

Maggie by now was standing in the door.  ‘She can have them, Mama,’ she said, like somebody used to never winning anything or having anything reserved for her. ‘I can ‘member Grandma Dee without the quilts.’

DEE

The oldest sister Dee has never been happy living in her home or with her family. With a single parent and little money, Dee has always wanted more: a better home, prettier clothes, and a college education.  When their home burned and her sister was injured, Dee showed no concern only a fixation of watching the fire.

Physically, Dee was described by her mother with neat looking feet, a lighter complexion, nice hair, and a full figure. Dee was an excellent reader.  Often, she would read to her mother and Maggie.

Her mother’s church provides the money for Dee to go off to college.  While away from home, Dee discovers the world of the Black Muslims.  She changes her way of dressing and even her name which had been in the family for four generations. Her intention is to give up a name that was related to slavery.  She tells her mother that Dee is dead. Wangero is now her name.  

Dee is back home to find relics of black history to use to decorate her home. When Dee wants to take home the quilts that had been made by Dee’s grandmother with some cloth relating back to the Civil War.  Ironically, Dee does not see the connection that this relates to slavery just as her name does. 

For the first time, Dee’s mother stands up to her and refuses to let her take the quilts that were promised to Maggie.  Bitterly, Dee leaves telling her family that her mother and sister do not understand their heritage.

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skwon1022's profile pic

skwon1022 | Student, Grade 11 | (Level 2) eNoter

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Relvoing around a family conflict triggered by a proud, confident character Dee's desire to obtain her personal and cultural heritage but inability to appreciate genuine identity of other characters, her mother and very disparate sister, Maggie, "Everyday Use" underscores a generation gap and a contrast between two distinctively different attitudes toward heritage. Although Maggie and their mother do not attempt to understand their cultural heritiage intellectually, they know and can feel it everyday by simply living their cultural heritage, maintained int he form of family relics: the quilt.

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