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

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mwestwood eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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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...

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The phrase "everyday use" crystallizes the conflict in the story and governs the structure. As the action develops we see the contrasting values of the two sisters. Dee rejects the past and is creating a new identity for herself. Maggie simply takes the past for granted and also accepts her role in the movement from past to present to future. These two movements of values intersect at the quilt and what is to be done with it. Should it be hung on a wall for display, or should it be put to "everyday use"? Though the story exposes Dee’s pretentiousness, it would seem to be suggesting a compromise. The African-American heritage is alive and present; creative people cannot build the future if they reject the past, for they can develop only if they accept it first and recognize their part in it. In short, people like Dee should put the past to work as a part of their continuing, living consciousness.

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