In what ways do the quilts hold different meanings for Dee and for Maggie in "Everyday Use" by Alice Walker?

The two quilts symbolize the generational gap that exists between Dee and her mother. In addition, they represent how Dee has appropriated African-American culture as her own, while she considers her mother's identification with it to be an embarrassing vestige of the past.

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It's clear that the quilts are, to Maggie and Mama both, things of sentimental value. When Dee asks if she can take them, Mama is reluctant to give them up because they contain "scraps of dresses Grandma Dee had worn fifty or more years ago," and a section of Great Grandpa Ezra's uniform from the Civil War. To Mama, they represent the family history; to Maggie, in receiving the quilts when she marries John Thomas, they will be a recognition of the fact that she is embarking on a journey which will, hopefully, lead to a continuation of that family history. While Dee is horrified at the thought that Maggie would put the quilts to "everyday use," Mama says, "I hope she will." For Mama and Maggie, the quilts are symbols of family love; they were made to be used, and using them is a way of honoring the memories of those who came before. Maggie says she can remember Grandma Dee "without the quilts," but it is clear that they are reminders of her grandmother for her.

As far as Dee is concerned, however, the quilts represent a history that has passed, or which she would like to have passed, rather than a living tradition of which she is part. She wants to acquire the quilts as trophies to hang up on her wall as a symbol of the way black people used to live. She believes that this means she is enlightened and is moving forward in rejecting the way her family has lived in the recent past and embracing a half-imagined African heritage. She doesn't realize that, in taking the quilts away from their intended purpose and hanging them on her wall, she is rejecting her own true heritage rather than celebrating it.

In depositing the quilts firmly in Maggie's lap, then, standing up to Dee for the first time, Mama is making a clear statement that it is Dee, not Maggie, who "just doesn't understand" her heritage.

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The quilts hold different meanings for Maggie and Dee because heritage means different things to Maggie and Dee.  For Maggie, heritage is something living, something that exists in the present: Maggie and Mama routinely use various items that were handmade by family members living or dead.  Heritage is about remembering the grandparents and aunts and uncles that have passed on, who have stories to keep passing down.  It isn't tied up in keeping things nice, or putting them on a shelf; it's about using the benches and the dasher and the quilts, even if that means they wear out and fall apart (because those people made those things to be used).

For Dee, heritage is about preserving things, not using them.  Heritage is something past for her, and she wants to acquire the quilts so that she can hang them on the wall.  She isn't connected to her heritage at all; she doesn't know the stories, and she doesn't care to.  The quilts seem to be something to show...

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off, to hang up, not to enjoy or to use.  They represent Maggie's connection to her heritage and her family, and they represent Dee's alienation from them.

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In "Everyday Use," what are the literal and figurative meanings of the two quilts to Dee, Maggie and the mother?

For Maggie and Mother, their view of the quilts is more literal. Because they are simpler people, objects such as quilts were constructed for practical, everyday use—not for hanging up like artifacts, as Dee insists. The factfound connection to her senses of culture and history, which she has adopted through her embrace of Black Nationalism. According to her mother's recollection, she had expressed no interest in the quilts before: "I didn't want to bring up how I had offered Dee (Wangero) a quilt when she went away to college. Then she had told me they were old-fashioned, out of style."

Figuratively, Dee's assumption of ownership over the quilts is indicative of the entitlement and vanity Mother had always sensed in her daughter. Dee had hated their first house and watched, with "a look of concentration," as "the last dingy gray board" fell "in toward the red-hot brick chimney." Her schooling in Augusta had not made her more sympathetic to Maggie and Mother, but more contemptuous of their ignorance: "[She] [p]ressed us to her with the serious way she read, to shove us away, like dimwits, at just the moment we seemed about to understand."

On her return home, she insists on taking the hand-stitched quilts made from her grandmother's old dresses, quilts that Mother had promised to Maggie "for when she marries John Thomas." In making this promise, Mother is attempting to maintain the quilts as part of family tradition. Dee is indifferent to her mother's promise and indifferent to Maggie's equal position within her family's tradition, due to her supposedly superior understanding of history and heritage.

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In "Everyday Use," what are the literal and figurative meanings of the two quilts to Dee, Maggie and the mother?

For Alice Walker, the motif of quilting is central to the connection of a family's heritage and the past. Therefore, the question of who should own the quilts in "Everyday Use" comes down to the conflict between two definitions of one's heritage.

On the one hand, Dee, who has transformed herself into a Black Nationalist, having changed her name and refused to eat pork, thinks that she should possess the artifacts of the old days when blacks were suppressed; things such as the butter churn and the quilt will serve as reminders of the past and the new liberation and the progress that African-Americans have made.   On the other hand, Maggie "knows how to quilt" and would put the quilts to "everyday use," letting them serve as a real reminder of her family, not as an artifact separate from her memories of Grandma Dee, whose pieces of dresses are part of the quilt.

Thus, for Maggie and her mother, the quilts are something with life in them with pieces of dresses and uniforms, reminders of generations before them and their time quilting together, while for Wangero they are merely symbolic of the suppression and poverty from which blacks have at last risen: "It's a new day for us."

From Wangero's arms, the mother snatches the quilts because she realizes that Maggie values tradition over progress. 

And then the two of us sat there just enjoying, until it was time to go in the house and go to bed.

Wangero's visit has brought Maggie and her mother closer together.

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At the end of "Everyday Use," how are the quilts symbolic of Maggie's relationship with Dee?

This is an interesting way to look at the quilts. Symbolism, of course, is defined as a concrete object that represents an abstract idea. In this case, the concrete objects are the family’s antique heirloom quilts Mama promised Maggie would inherit upon her marriage to John Thomas. Dee fusses about this because she wants the quilts for herself; she chastises Mama for thinking of giving the quilts to Maggie, whom Dee says would use everyday until they were reduced to tatters.

In her wisdom, Mama realizes that Dee doesn’t really understand the meaning of the quilts and resolves to give them to Maggie as promised.

Now, if one were to argue that the quilts symbolize Maggie and Dee’s relationship, it’s important to characterize each. At the beginning of the story, Mama says that she believes Maggie has always been jealous of Dee. Maggie seems anxious as they wait for Dee’s arrival, even hesitating to greet her sister. This shows that Maggie is somewhat uncomfortable around Dee.

When Dee visits, she doesn’t seem to interact directly with Maggie at all. This shows that their relationship is definitely not a close one. When she condescends to Maggie about the quilts, Dee reveals her superiority complex: she knows that she is better than Maggie because of her intelligence and acculturation in the modern world outside the isolated lives of Maggie and Mama.

The quilts are described in the story thusly:

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 unifotm that he wore in the Civil War.

The quilts are clearly very old, and they are made of various pieces and scraps that connect with the family’s history. Dee wants these two quilts because she wants to preserve this history. Maggie, on the other hand, wants to honor this history by using the quilts in the same way that her ancestors did. When Maggie resolves to give Dee the quilts, even though Maggie clearly wants them, this indicates her selfless nature.

Considering these discussions, the relationship between Dee and Maggie is worn and barely stitched together just like the quilts. Maggie is the only one who is willing to concede in order to please Dee, which shows that they’re relationship has always been one-sided.

Mama resolves to give Maggie the quilts not only because she believes Maggie will honor the family’s heritage, but also because she realizes how badly Dee has always treated her sister.

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What does the quilt mean to Dee and Maggie in "Everyday Use?"

Dee is the narrator's daughter in "Everyday Use." She has grown up and moved off to the city to live a new kind of life. She has turned her back on her family heritage and taken on an African-American name. She has no time or desire to connect to "her" people, those who have come before her and lived in the United States for generations, working hard and loving hard, in order that she might have the life she now has. To Dee, the quilt is nothing more than a piece of art: something that would look nice in her new place.

For Maggie, Dee's sister, life is very different. She has stayed at home. She has not experienced the same success Dee has. She is much more closely tied to her family, and is making plans to marry. Where Dee is attractive and larger than life, Maggie is quieter and plainer. She is a simple person, with down-to-earth expectations of life.

The quilt becomes a "bone of contention" when Dee insists that she should have it. At the same time, however, she does not want it because of the loving family hands that have toiled over it. She has no emotional connection to it at all. However, when the narrator hears her daughter Maggie speak of how much the piece means to her, it gives her pause.

Maggie wants the quilt, but says that Dee can have it if it means so much to her; Maggie explains that she does not need the quilt to bring her close to the hands that have worked so hard on it, specifically her grandmother. Her grandmother lives in her heart.

Hearing this, without hesitation, the narrator gives the quilt to Maggie because she wanted it for all the right reasons.

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