What is the meaning of the title "Everyday Use"?

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The title of the story “Everyday Use” refers to the quilt which Dee wants to take with her as a museum piece but which Mama wants to give Maggie as a wedding present for everyday use.

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In this short story, Mama has to make a decision about which of her daughters should inherit a couple of quilts, which are really family heirlooms containing pieces of their shared history. No ordinary quilts, these have been pieced together with meaningful scraps of fabric:

In both of them were scraps of dresses Grandma Dee had worn fifty and more years ago. Bits and pieces of Grandpa Jarrell’s Paisley shirts. And one teeny faded blue piece, about the size of a penny matchbox, that was from Great Grandpa Ezra’s uniform that he wore in the Civil War.

Dee has returned home to claim these quilts (and a few other artifacts) as her own. Interestingly, not all parts of her ancestry are worth holding on to for Dee—not even her name. She now prefers to be known as Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo. She tells her mother that she can't bear being named after people who "oppress" her, and Mama reminds her that she was named after her own sister, who was named after Grandma Dee. Dee wants to claim these quilts and then hang them for display, effectively putting her heritage on display at a safe distance.

Maggie, on the other hand, lives a simple life with Mama. Mama has already promised the quilts to Maggie for her upcoming marriage to John Thomas. Infuriated that Mama plans to give the quilts to her sister, Dee exclaims, “Maggie can’t appreciate these quilts! She’d probably be backward enough to put them to everyday use.”

This is the conflict between the sisters. While Dee wants her heritage safely on exhibit, Maggie lives it every day. Heritage to Maggie is not a celebration of cultural display but is appreciated in the way she continues the work of her ancestors. After all, Mama points out, Maggie has learned to quilt herself. It is this everyday use of her heritage and her ordinary appreciation of it that solidifies Mama's decision to give the quilts to Maggie, not to Dee.

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The title of Alice Walker's short story, "Everyday Use," is pulled from the text and pertains to functional handiwork as opposed to static artifacts. In her story, Alice Walker writes about the "creative legacy of ordinary black women" which is a valuable part of real African American heritage.

The central conflict of this story revolves around the mother's refusal to give her daughter Dee (now calling herself Wangero) two quilts that the women of the family pieced together from scraps of family members' clothing. These quilts, which three generations of women of the family have fashioned from scraps of old clothes, are thus composed of memories stitched together lovingly. There is a faded blue piece of a Civil War uniform worn by Great Grandpa Ezra, pieces of Grandpa Jarrell's old paisley shirts, and other pieces of old dresses worn by Grandma Dee. Whereas Mama and Maggie perceive these quilts as objects that have both function and sentimental beauty, Wangero perceives them only as static objects meant for a framed display of African American artifacts.

Mama believes that the family's heritage should be allowed "everyday use" and be part of daily life, not viewed as an artifact. Her daughter Maggie agrees but Dee does not. Having rejected her mother's offer of the quilts before she left for college, calling them "old-fashioned" and "out of style," Wangero (the new persona of Dee) now perceives them as priceless objects that should be framed and put on display as part of African American heritage.

Feeling "something hit [her] in the top of [her] head," the mother reacts to this hypocrisy and does something she has not done before. She hugs Maggie and pulls her into the room where Wangero stands with the quilts in her arms. Then, the mother grabs the quilts away from "Miss Wangero" and drops them into Maggie's lap. "Take two or three of the others," she says to Dee. Angered, Dee goes outside to where her boyfriend waits by their car.

"You just don't understand," she said, as Maggie and I [the mother] came out to the car.
"What don't I understand?" I wanted to know.
"Your heritage," she said.

After Dee/Wangero and her friend Hakim-a-barber depart, the mother and Maggie sit outside "just enjoying" the moment. Contrary to what Wangero believes, Mama and Maggie do, indeed, understand heritage because they know that the creative legacy of their family should not be framed or put on a shelf. Instead, such items should be handled with love and sentiment and be put to "everyday use."

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The title refers to the quilts but more metaphorically, to the basic conflict in the story.

Literally, the phrase "everyday use" refers to the way in which the mother wants the quilts to be used.  She sees the quilts as useful objects, rather than as heirlooms to be hung up and looked at.

The title also refers to the general conflict that is going on in the story.  It refers to the conflict between the old-fashioned "everyday" type of people like the mother and people like Wangero who has all these new ideas.  The everyday people are down to earth and practical, the others are more interested in ideas and philosophical statements.

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The significance of the title Everyday Use is that things that are treasured and passed down form generation to generation are meant for Everyday Use and not to be displayed as a trophy.  Using cherished items keeps the memories and the past alive.  It brings us the warm and loving feelings that make us cherish the items so much.  To wrap yourself up in one of those quilts would let you drift back to earlier times and actually picture Grandma quilting and seeing all the time and love that went into making these priceless items.  To just display them seems cold and so withdrawn from your past.  Dee didn't want to be a part of her past she wanted and still wants the "good" life.  Maggie is living the day to day memories of her past because she has grown up respecting it all her life, even with the hardships and devastations she has had to endure.  Living, breathing and respecting your culture is taking the good with the bad.

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In this story, Dee, the oldest daughter of the family, has become ashamed of her heritage and where she comes from. Mama is aware of this. She also understands that Dee is more beautiful, clever, and socially acceptable than her younger daughter, Maggie. However, Mama feels that by embracing a version of Black heritage which actually rejects her own family and the way she was brought up, Dee is insulting Mama, Maggie, and the family.

When Dee arrives back at the old house with her boyfriend and using a new name, she wants to take the quilts which have been handed down to Mama as a sort of museum piece. She wants to hang them on the wall as evidence of a world which, she believes, has rightly vanished for Black people in America. The title of the story, “Everyday Use,” refers to these quilts, which Mama wants to gift to her younger daughter, Maggie, instead, because she will use them. For Mama, the quilts are a rich symbol of her heritage. They remind her of the strong women who have preceded her and the struggles they have endured. She wants Maggie to use them on a daily basis, because, for her, this everyday use is how her heritage is properly honored.

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What is the significance of the title "Everyday Use"?

In her short story "Everyday Use" Alice Walker facetiously explores the trend of African-Americans who carried the New Black Identity to extremes.  When Dee, the daughter who has gone off to school and a new life, arrives at the clay yard of the narrator and her unseeming daughter Maggie, she greets them in an African dialect and introduces her boyfriend whose name is so unpronouncable that he tells Maggie and her mother to just call him "Hakim-a-barber."  In addition, Dee announces to her family that "Dee is dead," and her new name is 'Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo because, she declares,

"I couldn't bear it any longer being named after the people who oppress me." 

Even when her mother explains that Dee has been named after her aunt and grandmother, Wangero ridiculously repudiates the name.

These ludicrous names of Dee and her boyfriend suggest the absurdity of the new movement of black Americans to reject their real heritage for things that are more African is significantly demonstrated in Dee's insistence that she should have the homemade quilt to display as folk art when Maggie will only use it for every day. Yet, it is in the "everyday use" that the labor and love that went into the making of this quilt is most appreciated; therefore, the "everyday use" is the most respectful and important of use.  The title, then, significantly points to this irony as well as the important theme of  "Heritage vs. Materialism." 


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What most likely describes the significance of the story's title "Everyday Use"?

The title of the story "Everyday Use" draws its significance from the ethical dilemma and theme of the story.  The overarching question that the story asks readers to consider (and answers at the end of the story) is what method is best for honoring one's family heritage.  Mama and Maggie believe that the best way to honor one's family heritage is by being an active participant in that heritage.  As such, Mama uses the butter churn that was once whittled by an uncle, and both Mama and Maggie still quilt just like the women in the family before them.  They believe that cultural artifacts should be put to "everyday use," not put on display like art.  Dee, the story's antagonist, believes that using these items will ruin their value.  At this point, the reader is challenged to consider whether preservation or "everyday use" is the better option.  The story, however, implicitly answers this question when at the end, Dee drives off in a cloud of dust, while Mama and Maggie sit back and smile, suggesting that "everyday use" is how we best honor our family's heritage.

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