Does the mother show favoritism to one of the two sisters in "Everyday Use," and has justice been done by the story's end?
This is a good question!
Justice has not been done at the end of Alice Walker's short story "Everyday Use". One child is favored over the other, and as readers, we're asked to agree with and share in the biases of the mother. That's my opinion, at least, and I'm happy to explain some of my thoughts.
I think that the two previous posters are overlooking the bias in the story against Dee's development away from the family home and the limited world of small town black life in the American South. The story is narrated by the mother, of course, and at least once she shows a lack of patience or civility. For example, in speaking to the reader, the mother/narrator mocks the man that Dee brings home with her, calling him not by his name but by the greeting that he uses when he first sees her ("Asalamalakim").
Many readers are drawn in by the mother's bias, often without being aware of it. When I teach this story, my students almost invariably side with Maggie over "Wangero (Dee)," as she's called at one point in the story, and laugh at loud as they, too, mock the black woman and man who have been radicalized by their time in the North and through their contact with Black Islam.
When I teach "Everyday Use," I try to complicate the students' reception of the story. For example, I ask them what they do with the quilts (or other items) that have been passed down from generation to generation in their family. Most of them, when asked, wholly agree that they don't put those items to "everyday use." I also suggest that Dee is the artist returning home for inspiration, wanting to take pieces of the past and remake them in creative new ways. At least one well researched article that I often distribute (I don't have access to my office over the break, sorry, so I'm not sure of the author or title) makes a strong case for seeing Dee as very closely related to Walker herself.
The story "Everyday Use" revolves around two sisters named Dee and Maggie. One sister, Dee, has become educated and successful in society's eyes. The other sister, Magee, is a homebody and a simpleton who is uneducated and not worldly. She has burn scars over her arms and legs.
The symbol of mother's love and tradition in the story is a handmade quilt that has been cherished in the family for many years. Dee wants the quilt for show and monetary presentation so that she can display it in her home. Handmade quilts have become socially desired ornamentation and she strives to be socially appropriate. Maggie is intimidated by her sister. She is unable to relate to her sister's level of communication and success. She cowers away from her sister. Magee will use the quilt to warm the bed just as generations before her used quilts. She sees the quilt for its practical uses.
The mother in the story loves both girls. She is very proud of Dee for all of her accomplishments. In her pride she may at times overlook Magee's simple ways, but there is still the element of her love for Magee.
The decision the mother has to make is who to give the quilt. The quilt symbolizes, at this time, so many other mothers having to make a decision between their children. Making decisions will leave one hurt and one fulfilled. The mother chooses to give the quilt to Magee. Magee needs the comfort and love that the quilt will provide her. Dee is able to stand on her own and the value of the quilt will only be a façade of social style. The mother does not favor one daughter over another but makes her decisions based on her own understanding of her children and their needs.
Dee (Wangero) is “the intelligent girl who graduated from high school in Augusta (lit24, 2009).” “Dee is seen as materialistic, complex, and a modern woman. Her idea of culture and heritage, as represented by the quilt, depends on the "trendiness" of the thing (Cuizon, 2009).” Mother describes Dee as “ used to read to us without pity; forcing words, lies, other folks’ habits, whole lives upon us two, sitting trapped and ignorant under her voice.... pressed us to her with the serious way she read, to shove us away at just the moment, like dimwits we seemed to understand (Walker, 2008).” Dee is clearly a very self-determined woman who is ambitious to achieve things in life despite her background.
However, “Maggie, the homely, uneducated sister, knows more about her African American heritage than does Dee. Maggie and her mother live their cultural heritage; they are nourished by it through everyday use and versed in the craftsmanship needed to pass it on to future generations (epollock, 2009).” As described in the story, "Maggie will be nervous until after her sister goes: she will stand hopelessly in corners, homely and ashamed of the burn scars down her arms and legs, eying her sister with a mixture of envy and awe (Walker, 2008)."
I did not feel that the mother favored one daughter over the other. However, I do feel that the mother was very proud of Dee for all of her accomplishments, such as her education. But on the other hand I believe that she felt as if Dee did not appreciate her for all of the sacrifices she made. As for Maggie I believe that mother took pity on her, thus she took Maggie under her wing (so to speak). I believe that in the end she probably favored Maggie more. In fact, Mama's actions in giving the quilts to Maggie has boosted Maggie's self-esteem and made her feel loved and valued, and they share a moment of happiness together.
Justice has been done by the end of the story. That is, Maggie is often overlooked and under appreciated by her mother because Dee has an exciting and adventurous personality. Maggie is constant and caring, though. Dee wants the quilt because she has adopted a new superficial connection to her "roots." She claims that she wants the quilt to show off her heritage. It is clear that she has no understanding of where she is actually from, though. She just wants the quilt to hang on the wall. Maggie truly understands her past and fully accepts it. She contributes in a real way to the world around her and is deeply committed to her family. She deserves the quilt because she will use it and she will better appreciate it and the hard work that went into making it.References
Cuizon, G. (2009, February 10). Everyday Use by Alice Walker. Retrieved December 22, 2009, from suite101.com: http://african-american-fiction.suite101.com/article.cfm/everyday_use_by_alice_walker
epollock. (2009, December 14). every day-use. Retrieved December 22, 2009, from enotes: http://www.enotes.com/everyday-use/q-and-a/tags/Everyday+Use
lit24. (2009, December 15). Everyday-use. Retrieved December 22, 2009, from enotes: http://www.enotes.com/everyday-use/q-and-a/what-basic-situation-book-everyday-use-by-alice-124089
Walker, A. (2008). Everyday Use. In J. Bryant, Introduction to American Literature (pp. 695-753). Boston: Pearson Custom Publishing.