What does the terrible accident signify about Maggie's life?

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In the Alice Walker story “Everyday Use” Maggie’s life is completely changed by the fire that destroyed her family’s home when she was younger. This story dramatizes the relationship between Maggie, her sister Dee, and the first person narrator, their mother. Dee and her mother survived the fire without injury, but Maggie was not so lucky. The fire damaged her not just physically, but also emotionally.

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, eyeing her sister with a mixture of envy and awe.

As we can see from the passage above, the fire condemned Maggie to a lifetime of inferiority. In the climax of the story, Maggie finally gets some redemption as her mother stands up to Dee and gives Maggie the family heirlooms (the quilts) that Dee wanted to take with her. When Dee leaves to return to college, the narrator shows us that Maggie feels better:

Maggie smiled; maybe at the sunglasses [that Dee put on]. But a real smile, not scared.

That’s the first time we see anything hopeful or positive happen in association with Maggie, and it doesn’t occur until the story’s final paragraph.

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