In "Everyday Use" compare and contrast Maggie and Dee.
On a figurative level—and perhaps even a literal level—Dee is the daughter who burns and Maggie is the daughter who is burned. Maggie wears pink and red, the colors of burned skin, while Dee wears orange and yellow, colors associated with fire. Mama even says that the dress Dee wears is "enough to throw back the light of the sun. [She] feels [her] whole face warming from the heat waves it throws out." They have acted so different from one another, especially "since the fire that burned the other house to the ground," when Maggie got her scars. It even seems possible that Dee started the fire; by the time Mama and Maggie made it outside, Dee was already under the tree with "a look of concentration on her face as she watched" the house burn down. "She had hated the house that much," Mama says. As she got older, Mama says that Dee "burned [them] with a lot of knowledge" they did not need. Even the boys she hung out with as a child wore "pink shirts" and revered her "scalding humor that erupted like bubbles in lye." Dee is harsh while Maggie always seems like a victim.
Further, Maggie knows all the stories associated with the items that Dee now wants to take. Dee is interested in the chute top and dasher that her family still uses daily, items that were made by other family members, only because she wants to do "something artistic" with them—not because she actually cares about what their purposes are or because she cares about the people who made them. Maggie knows how to quilt, and she values the quilts because of the family tradition they represent; Dee only wants the quilts now—which she rejected years ago—because she wants to show them off and hang them on her wall. Maggie, again, appreciates the everyday use which these family items should be put through in order to keep family tradition and heritage alive; Dee values these items as artifacts only and has no appreciation for what they are or what they mean.
Really, apart from the fact that they are sisters, the text establishes little similarity between Maggie and Dee. Consider how Maggie is introduced in the first paragraph:
Maggie will be nervous until after her sister goes: She will stand hopelessly in corners, homely and ashamed of the burn scars down her arms and legs, eyeing her sister with a mixture of envy and awe. She think her sister has held life always in the palm of one hand, that "no" is a word the world never learned to say to her.
This quote clearly establishes some of the central differences between the two sisters. Dee is confident, outgoing, ambitious and determined to make something of life, whereas Maggie is shy, reclusive and passive. Consider how the narrator describes her daughter as a "lame animal" who sidles "up to someone who is ignorant enough to be kind to him". Maggie, described in this fashion, is clearly painted as someone who has such a low sense of self-worth that they are amazed that anyone would actually want to talk to her.
However, the narrator says of Dee, "Hesitation was no part of her nature":
She was determined to stare down any disaster in her efforts... At sixteen she had a style of her own: and knew what style was.
It is clear then that Dee is incredibly self-confident and self-assured. She, as is amply evidenced later in the story, knows what she wants and will not stand for anyone getting in her way, which makes the narrator's decision to not give into her all the more remarkable.
In "Everyday Use," Dee and Maggie are foils:
- Dee is beautiful; Maggie is ugly.
- Dee is well-educated; Maggie is slow.
- Dee is trendy; Maggie is plain.
- Dee is on-the-go; Maggie is a homebody.
- Dee is chatty; Maggie is quiet.
- Dee is self-serving; Maggie is humble.
In literary terms, Dee is the alazon, an impostor who thinks she is better than she really is. Maggie is an eiron, a self-deprecator who is better than she really is. Dee is like the wicked step-mother and step-sisters and Maggie is like Cinderella.
By Mama's standards, Dee betrays her family's culture by trading it in for the pseudo-African one. By changing her name, clothes, and identity, Dee does not deserve the family heirlooms (quilt). Maggie, because she sews and cleans and cooks without compliant, is more like Big Dee (her grandmother) and, therefore, preserves her culture and is awarded the quilts and title of future matriarch of the family.