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In Alice Walker's "Everyday Use," Dee wants the quilts simply because they would make attractive accents to her new home and her new life, not because they have significance having been sewn by hand by women who came before her, worked hard, suffered and built a life for themselves. For Dee has rejected that part of her heritage.
Her sister Maggie sees the world in a much different way. It is because of the hands that have joined the tidbits of cloth together that she values the quilts and wants to use them "everyday," and so honor the lives of love and sacrifice of her ancestors.
Maggie doesn't see very good and she is not overly intelligent. Mother and daughter have more in common with each other than with Dee. Dee has left her roots of poverty behind her. She cares nothing for her heritage, a major theme in the story.
Dee is very intelligent. She can use language. She reads. Her humor is "scalding" like bubbles in lye—a harsh chemical substance often used to make soaps. There seems to be little softness in her, and little desire to recognize her family or the people she comes from. She has not visited in a long time. This is something of an event for the narrator, but Maggie isn't greatly impressed.
When Dee arrives at the house, with a "stocky man," she is wearing a traditional African dress. Dee greets them, "Wa-su-zo-Tean-o!" The man has taken an African name—Asalamalakim: but he'll answer to Hakim-a-barber. Dee announces that she has a new name as well:
Not 'Dee,' Wangero Leewanika Kemajo!
Dee also announces that the person who was once Dee is now dead.
I couldn't bear it any longer being named after the people who oppress me.
Although Dee wants nothing to do with the house and no wish to acknowledge the women who made her life possible, she is particularly interested in the handmade benches and the old butter churn. The churn, she announces...
...I can use...as a centerpiece for the alcove table...
She proceeds to take it and wrap it to go. In fact, Dee who lives comfortably in the city is happy to take the several items from her mother's home...a home that doesn't even have windows, but only holes with strips of rawhide covering each opening. The narrator makes note of the many hands that used the churn, and how they have worn the wood down, but Dee is oblivious.
After dinner Dee comes into the room with two quilts she wants.
They had been pieced by Grandma Dee and then Big Dee and me had hung them on the quilt frames on the front porch and quilted them.
Dee's description reveals exactly how she feels about them:
"Mama," Wangero said sweet as a bird. "Can I have these old quilts?"
I heard something fall in the kitchen, and a minute later the kitchen door slammed.
The slamming is done by Maggie, and this tells the reader how she feels about Dee's desire to have the "old quilts." The value of the quilts is in their age, not by who carefully stitched them. Dee assumes she will get them. The narrator explains that they are for Maggie after she marries. Dee is appalled:
She'd probably be backward enough to put them to everyday use.
What makes them valuable to Dee is that they are "priceless," not the hands that made them. As if the Holy Ghost had come over her in church, the narrator hugs Maggie and gives them to her, knowing it's where the quilts belong because Maggie will appreciate them as Dee never could.
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