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

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For Maggie and Mother, their view of the quilts is more literal. Because they are simpler people, objects such as quilts were constructed for practical, everyday use—not for hanging up like artifacts, as Dee insists. The factfound connection to her senses of culture and history, which she has adopted through her embrace of Black Nationalism. According to her mother's recollection, she had expressed no interest in the quilts before: "I didn't want to bring up how I had offered Dee (Wangero) a quilt when she went away to college. Then she had told me they were old-fashioned, out of style."

Figuratively, Dee's assumption of ownership over the quilts is indicative of the entitlement and vanity Mother had always sensed in her daughter. Dee had hated their first house and watched, with "a look of concentration," as "the last dingy gray board" fell "in toward the red-hot brick chimney." Her schooling in Augusta had not made her more sympathetic to Maggie and Mother, but more contemptuous of their ignorance: "[She] [p]ressed us to her with the serious way she read, to shove us away, like dimwits, at just the moment we seemed about to understand."

On her return home, she insists on taking the hand-stitched quilts made from her grandmother's old dresses, quilts that Mother had promised to Maggie "for when she marries John Thomas." In making this promise, Mother is attempting to maintain the quilts as part of family tradition. Dee is indifferent to her mother's promise and indifferent to Maggie's equal position within her family's tradition, due to her supposedly superior understanding of history and heritage.

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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.

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