In "Everyday Use" by Alice Walker, what is ironic about her request for these objects and her new found interest in her heritage?  

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Dee Johnson believes that a person’s heritage has nothing to do with the family tradition.  Her interest in the 1970s Black Muslim focuses on African names and dress.  What Dee has forgotten is that her given name that she gave up came from her grandmother who made the quilts that she desires. 

In “Everyday Use” by Alice Walker, Mama narrates the story concerning the visit of her daughter who is returning home.  Mama and her other daughter Maggie have been cleaning and preparing for the visit.  Now, they sit in the front yard waiting for Dee.

When Dee arrives with her boyfriend, she has changed not only her dress but her name to Wangero.  Surprisingly, Mama goes along with Dee and all of her changes. It is when Dee begins to pick up things to take with her that Mama begins to resist. 

Finally, Dee goes into Mama’s bedroom to rummage through her chest and discovers two handmade quilts.  These are important to Mama because her mother sewed them with her assistance.  They included material going back to the Civil War. 

Dee attaches herself to the quilts.  It is discovered that she intends to use these things as display to prove her African heritage. Mama says “no” for the first time to Dee.  She tells Dee that the quilts belong to Maggie. 

The irony of the situation comes from the discrepancy Dee’s understand.  She is willing to give up her name given her by her grandmother.  Yet, she wants the quilts that the grandmother made.  She does not really want them to use but to show off to other people that she owns real handmade quilts from another era. 

Obviously, the family  is not African but American that lived through the Civil War.  The Black American aspect of their lives is important.  However, nothing is more important than the shared family inheritance and relics from the time past.

After Mama refuses to give the quilts to her, Dee tells Maggie that she needs to get her life together and try to understand her heritage. Maggie loves her home and mother and already is far beyond Dee in living with her family legacy.   Dee explains her point of view:

“You don’t understand,” she said, as Maggie and I came out to the car.

“What don’t I understand?” I wanted to know.

“Your heritage,” she said. And then she turned to Maggie, kissed her, and said, “You ought to try to make something of yourself, too, Maggie.  It’s really a new day for us. But the way you and Mama still live you’d never know it.”

In truth, it is Dee who does not realize the importance of the family legacy that the quilts and even her mother and sister represent.  Finally, Mama sees Maggie for the first time and kisses and hugs her.  It is Maggie who has stayed with her and who comprehends the importance of family heritage.