Discuss the symbolism and importance of the quilts in "Everyday Use" by Alice Walker.

Expert Answers
carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Alice Walker uses the character of "Dee" to illustrate those African-Americans in the 1970s who chose to pursue their black heritage, forgetting that they are also a part of America. Black power and the Black Muslims were in vogue.   In "Everyday Use," Mama narrates the story of the relationship between her and her daughters. 

Mama had no education.  She could work like a man. Conflict was not a part of nature.  Her comfort level included staying home and taking care of her family.

Dee, her oldest daughter, who calls herself Wangero now, has come home not really for a visit, but to find things that she wants to take back to her own home.  From the time she arrives, Dee is rummaging around looking for things. 

When Dee discovers the quilts, both Mama and Maggie react strongly. At first, Mama tells Dee that she should not want these old ones, but take the newe ones that Mama had made.  The quilts that Dee wants have a special importance to Mama and Maggie.  They knew where they came from and how they were made.  The quilts represented the strong women in the family. Mama remembers exactly the day they were quilted. 

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. 

These quilts represent Mama's family and her legacy.  Symbolically, each piece of material belonged to someone in the family going all the way back to the Civil War.  Now, Dee who does not understand or remember anything about the family, wants Mama's most precious possessions. 

For once in her life, Mama tells Dee "No."  Those quilts belong to Maggie.  Dee becomes furious.  She was going to hang the quilts on the wall representing her African heritage.  When Mama reaches to touch the quilts, Dee pulls away from her; then, Dee had gone too far. Maggie says it is okay if Dee takes them because she does not need the quilts to remember Grandma Dee. Dee tells her mother:

'Maggie can's appreciate these quilts! she said.  'She'd probably be backward enough to put them to everyday use.'

Dee and her superficial black power have left Mama cold.  For the first time, she sees who Dee really is: disrespectful and unappreciative.  The quilts will stay. 

Mama had offered Dee a quilt when she left for college and Dee said that they were old fashioned.  After Dee leaves, Mama has a new appreciation for Maggie, who knows the history of the family, loves Mama and her legacy.