"Everyday Use" by Alice Walker was written in the 1970s when the black people were just beginning to look for their roots in Africa. The book Roots and the mini series by Alex Hailey had certainly stimulated this interest.
Black power and the Black muslims raised different issues for the black person. These movements found support from those who were not satisfied in the progress in integration, equality, and economic growth of the black communities.
Although the Black Muslims had been accused of killing Malcolm X, there were many who were believers in the religion. Those who joined the Black muslims were often sincere; however, some became interested in the controversy and found a place for protest.
Alice Walker wrote often of her distaste for the African-American who was only interested in his blackness and not in his country now. She believed that in order to make America better the black man must build here first and along with his interest in his African heritage. Walker wanted both aspects but not separate as many were promoting in that time period.
Using Dee and her new black name Wangero and facade, Walker hoped to point out the foolishness of separating the two parts of the same person. Dee was a part of the Johnson family, but she did not align herself with them.
Dee wanted to become a part of movement that she did not really understand. When she came to visit her mother and sister, Dee was dressed in South African dress not the Africa from which her ancestors came. Dee did not even realize it.
'Well,' I say. 'Dee.'
'No.' she says. "Not 'Dee,' Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo!'
'What happened to 'Dee'?" I wanted to know.'
'She's dead,' Wangero said. 'I couldn't bear it any longer, being named after the people who oppress me.'
Those people who oppress Dee are her mother and all of the other ancestors that have made the things that she so dearly wants. Neither did Dee understand the importance of her family heritage. Dee wants to take the things away from her mother and sister to display them as black souvenirs: table decorations and wall hangings.
On the other side of the issue, Mama and Maggie represent the part of the community that believes in a legacy of the American black people. Mama remembers making the quilts that Dee so badly wants. Her grandmother Dee [whom Dee was named after], Mama's mother, and Mama herself spent many hours hand-making those quilts. Many of the pieces came from clothing that belonged to the ancestors all the way back to the Civil War. Superficially, Dee acknowledges this fact, but does not appreciate its importance to mama and her legacy.
Maggie had listened to the stories about the ancestors and knew how much these things meant to her mother. Yet, to keep the peace, she was willing to give the quilts to Dee. Mama stood her ground and refused Dee for the first time. The quilts would stay with Maggie.
Walker's goal was to compare the sincerity of the two sisters, emphasizing the cruelty and haphazard treatment of her family by Dee. The superficiality of Dee and her wanting to display her black ancestry is contrasted to the quilts and their daily use by Maggie who will stay by her mother regardless of what happens.