What are the values that are most important to Dee as opposed to those of Maggie in Alice Walker's story, "Everyday Use?"

1 Answer | Add Yours

booboosmoosh's profile pic

booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

In Alice Walker's short story, "Everyday Use," Dee and Maggie are very different people, which becomes evident as they disagree over two old quilts that both young women want.

Dee has left her family's roots behind as she has gone off to college and become a "woman of the world." She has taken an African name, indicating that she has left behind her connection to her American heritage. She is only interested in having her grandmother's quilts because they would look nice hanging in her home. Dee has no sentimental attachment to the quilt made by her grandmother.

On the other hand, Maggie's sentiments are very different. She greatly values the quilts because they do represent her connection to her grandmother and the African-American culture she is rooted in. She lives with her mother; they have very little. The quilts represent her family's past, and she feels deeply connected to the past through the quilts.

After dinner Dee (Wangero) went to the trunk at the foot of my bed and started rifling through it...Out came Wangero with two quilts. They had been pieced by Grandma Dee and then Big Dee and me had hung them on the quilt ftames on the ftont porch and quilted them...In both of them were scraps of dresses Grandma Dee had worn fifty and more years ago. Bits and pieces of Grandpa Jattell'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.

The quilts become a point of contention between the two girls. Dee argues that Maggie won't appreciate them, though their mother has promised them to her younger daughter:

'Maggie can't appreciate these quilts!' she said. 'She'd probably be backward enough to put them to everyday use.'

'I reckon she would,' I said. 'God knows I been saving 'em for long enough with nobody using 'em. I hope she will!'

'...But they're priceless!' she was saying now, furiously; for she has a temper. 'Maggie would put them on the bed and in five years they'd be in rags. Less than that!'

Maggie, who is soon to be married, is willing to give up the quilts to settle the dispute, saying that she does not need the quilts to remember her grandmother.

"She can have them, Mama," she said, like somebody used to never winning anything, or having anything reserved for her. "I can 'member Grandma Dee without the quilts."

At this point, the girls' mother, Mrs. Johnson, takes the quilt from Dee and gives it to Maggie. Mrs. Johnson is also rooted in the African-American past that defines who they are: not descendants of slaves, as Dee contends, but as the children of the children of slaves who have cut a life out for themselves in the United States, despite the fact that they arrived here unwillingly.

Ironically, Dee believes that she has left the past behind and found a way to connect to her African heritage, which means nothing to her personally—that is not truly her heritage.

...[Dee] scorns her immediate roots in favor of a pretentious "native African" identity.

Dee rejects the heritage forced on her by "the people who oppress me."

Maggie, however, does not bear resentment to the people in the past that she has never known, but remains connected to her family, especially her grandmother. She is happily grounded in the tradition her ancestors have left for her, providing her a connection to those she loves.

We’ve answered 318,911 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question