Why does Dee think that Mama and Maggie don't understand their heritage in "Everyday Use"?

Expert Answers info

mwestwood eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2006

write16,149 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Social Sciences

When Dee/Wangero tells her mother, "You just don't understand...your heritage," she implies that hand-made artistic items in their family should be put on display instead of being used.

Even before Dee became involved in the Black Nationalist movement, she rejected the conditions under which she was raised. Nevertheless, she promised to visit her mother and sister no matter where they might live. But Mama and Maggie are not prepared for Dee's new name and her boyfriend. Dee has rejected her birth name, which comes from Dicie, a family name traceable to the Civil War, in favor of Wangero. Now, on her visit Dee wants to take back with her the butter churn of her grandmother, benches made by her father, and quilts made by women in the family.

Because the value of the quilts lies in their functionality for Mama and Maggie, Mama snatches the quilts out of Dee's arms when she tries to take them. She then hands them to Maggie. Dee exclaims,

"Maggie can't appreciate these quilts! ... She'd probably be backward enough to put them to everyday use."

Maggie does, indeed, use them. Moreover, she appreciates the quilts for their beauty, which lies in their functionality--something that Dee does not understand.

Further Reading:

check Approved by eNotes Editorial

Jennings Williamson eNotes educator | Certified Educator

briefcaseTeacher (K-12)


calendarEducator since 2016

write6,732 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Arts

Dee thinks that Mama and Maggie do not understand or appreciate their heritage because they routinely use the family items that Dee thinks should be preserved.  First, she marvels over the rump prints in the benches that her father made when they were too poor to buy chairs.  Then, she insists that she wants Grandma Dee's butter dish (even though she doesn't want to keep her name, same as her grandmother's), then the churn top and the dasher: all of which Mama and Maggie still use in daily life.

The final straw, however, is when Dee insists that she wants the old family quilts, refusing newer ones because they have been stitched by machines instead of by hand.  Mama says that the machine-stitching will help them to hold up longer, but Dee doesn't want to use them; she wants to hang them.  When Mama tells her that those hand-stitched quilts are promised to Maggie, Dee cries, "'Maggie can't appreciate these quilts! [...] She'd probably be backward enough to put them to everyday use.'"  Thus, for Dee, heritage is something to preserve, to show off; for Mama and Maggie, heritage is remembering and using those items made by loved ones because that's how one keeps one's family and heritage alive.  Heritage, for them, is meant for everyday use, and this is why Dee believes that they cannot appreciate it.

check Approved by eNotes Editorial