In Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use,” the character of Mama narrates the story in first person. One of Mama’s dreams is that she would be on a television show some day with her daughter Dee. On the show, mother and daughter would hug and smile at each other. Dee would pin an orchid on Mama. In truth, nothing like this will ever happen between these two characters. Dee never liked living at home. Nothing was really good enough for her. She wanted nice things.
Does Dee change in the story?
Dee does not change. Dee is selfish, attractive, and intelligent. Her attitude has impacted Maggie, her sister, and Mama throughout their lives. She dominated her mother with her wishes. Only when the church and Mama provide a college education for her, does Dee show the slightest positive attitude, primarily because she will be able to leave home.
When Dee returns from college, Maggie and Mama await her return with trepidation. They hope that Dee will be different. When she arrives, Dee has become Wangero. Dee displays a new outer persona; yet, the inner Dee has not changed. Wangero is Dee’s new African name. The search for black identity became Dee’s motivation in returning home. Her disrespect for her family and her heritage has not changed.
Dee has come home to find things that represent her heritage to display in her apartment. She does not care about these beloved items except as decorations. To Mama and Maggie, these handmade items represent their family’s heritage. Each item has a history and was made by someone in the family.
When she begins to look around the house, Mama knows that Dee wants something. Before they can sit down to dinner, Dee begins her search. First, she finds the butter churn top; after dinner, Dee brings out two quilts.
“Can I have these old quilts?”
“Why don’t you take one or two of the others?” I asked. “These old things was just done by me and Big Dee from some tops your grandma pieced before she died.”
“No,” said Wangero. “I don’t want those. They are stitched around the borders by machine.”
“That’ll make them last better,” I said.
“That’s not the point,” said Wangero. “These are all pieces of dresses Grandma used to wear. She did all this stitching by hand. Imagine!”
“The truth is,” I said, “I promised to give them quilts to Maggie…”
Throughout the visit, Dee ironically defeats her purpose in recognizing her heritage. If she wants the quilts made by her grandmother, why not keep her inherited name? She fails to understand the importance of heritage which connects to the family legacy that is so important to Mama.
Even when she is told that the quilts belong to Maggie, Dee is disrespectful toward her sister. She gives the title to the story when she tells her mother that Maggie will use these quilts every day and ruin them.
After her mother refuses her something for the first time in her life, Dee angrily leaves telling Maggie that she needs to get in touch with her African heritage. Dee has no genuine pride or respect for her heritage or the struggles of her mother and sister.
Without regard for their inconvenience and emotional stress, Dee simply wants to take things back to her home to make a fashion statement and look chic. Instead of showing respect for her family roots, Dee looks down on her family’s home believing that she is above her mother and sister. Dee has not changed.