In "Everyday Use," what are the literal and figurative meanings of the two quilts to Dee, Maggie and the mother?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

For Alice Walker, the motif of quilting is central to the connection of a family's heritage and the past. Therefore, the question of who should own the quilts in "Everyday Use" comes down to the conflict between two definitions of one's heritage.

On the one hand, Dee, who has transformed herself into a Black Nationalist, having changed her name and refused to eat pork, thinks that she should possess the artifacts of the old days when blacks were suppressed; things such as the butter churn and the quilt will serve as reminders of the past and the new liberation and the progress that African-Americans have made.   On the other hand, Maggie "knows how to quilt" and would put the quilts to "everyday use," letting them serve as a real reminder of her family, not as an artifact separate from her memories of Grandma Dee, whose pieces of dresses are part of the quilt.

Thus, for Maggie and her mother, the quilts are something with life in them with pieces of dresses and uniforms, reminders of generations before them and their time quilting together, while for Wangero they are merely symbolic of the suppression and poverty from which blacks have at last risen: "It's a new day for us."

From Wangero's arms, the mother snatches the quilts because she realizes that Maggie values tradition over progress. 

And then the two of us sat there just enjoying, until it was time to go in the house and go to bed.

Wangero's visit has brought Maggie and her mother closer together.