In "Everyday Use" compare and contrast Maggie and Dee.

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mstultz72's profile pic

mstultz72 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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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.

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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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.