Why does Dee want the quilts in "Everyday Use"?

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The struggle of African American women with racism and prejudice was the theme of many of Alice Walker’s writing. “Everyday Use” was published in a time when these problems were at their apex.

The characters in the story represent two distinct generations. Mrs. Johnson believes that family is the heart and soul of life. Her life has been given to her daughters in trying to provide for their needs. Her youngest daughter Dee does not understand or appreciate the sacrifices that her mother’s has undergone for her.

Mrs. Johnson is uneducated and naïve. This does not mean she is not intelligent. However, she waits on the lawn for a daughter who does not appreciate her mother or sister. Dee believes that she is above the family for which, in truth, she has been ashamed.

Dee has even changed her name to one that she believes makes her closer to her African heritage. Dee brags:

"She's dead," Wangero said. "I couldn't bear it any longer, being named after the people who oppress me."

With little protest, her mother seems to accept her persona and even her name. Dee gives her mother nothing but a superior attitude.

It has been so long since Dee has been home that her mother’s imagination runs wild hoping that Dee will be happy to be home. Dee has an ulterior motive for coming home. Not to be a part of the family again but to take things that she can show to others as actual antique, African artifacts.

Dee lays claim to a couple of quilts. Because she has always gotten her way, she does not dream that her shy sister Maggie will not allow her to take them. When her mother supports the older sister by telling Dee that she cannot have them, Dee is livid.

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

The quilts have no value to Dee except as wall hangings. On the other hand, Maggie plans to use the quilts as they were intended to be used: by actually living within the African and family heritage. The story disproves Dee’s superficial attitude that it is a new day for the African Americans

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teachertaylor eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Dee wants the quilts in "Everyday Use" because she believes it is important to preserve familial artifacts as a way to keep culture intact and alive.  The quilts contain pieces of fabric that were once part of the clothing of family members, such as "one teeny faded blue piece. . .that was from Great Grandpa Ezra's uniform that he wore in the Civil War."  Dee knows that if the quilts are actually used, the fabric will get dirty and wear thin, rendering the precious pieces of past clothing garbage.  Dee wants to take the quilts and use them as tapestries in her home so that she and her friends can look on them while recalling the cultural past.  Dee does not believe that using the quilts is a way to honor her family's heritage, and instead, she believes that all should be done to preserve these artifacts for future generations.