Mama in "Everyday Use" by Alice Walker narrates the story of a visit from her oldest daughter who has been away from home for a while. Mama is not only the narrator but the protagonist as well. She loves both of the her daughters; however, they are as different as night and day.
The story takes place during the 1970s when Black Pride, Black Power, and Black Muslims were beginning to take hold in the African-American community. Mama and Maggie live in a very small almost shack-like house.
Dee, the oldest daughter, was never satisfied at home. She wanted things, and she was going to get them. When their house burned down, Dee was not unhappy because she hated it. Although she was pretty and attractive, Dee did not try to fit in. This was not where she wanted to be.
Mama dreams about having a relationship with Dee. She imagines being reunited with her on a television show.
Maggie was severely injured when the house burned. She is extremely shy and ashamed of the burns on her arms and legs. Neither sister particularly likes each other. When Maggie was in the fire, Dee did nothing to help her or show any concern. Today, her nerves are on edge because Dee is coming. One more thing that bugs Maggie is that she believes that Mama never could tell Dee "No."
When Dee comes, Maggie and Mama are sitting on the front porch. Dee is overdressed like a South African woman. She announces that she is no longer Dee but Wangero her new African name or Black Muslim name.
After a big supper that Dee enjoys, she begins to snoop around looking at different things around the house.
'That's it!" she said. 'I knew there was something I wanted to ask you if I could have.This churn top is what I need," she said. "Didn't Uncle Buddy whittle it out of a tree you all used to have?"
'Yes,' I said.
'Un huh,' she said happily. "And I want the dasher, too.'
Dee had never liked her mother's things. Suddenly, she spies a chest. Rummaging through it, she finds two quilts that had been hand made by two of the grandmothers. Mama was a girl and she helped put the quilting in. Some of the material went back to the Civil War.
Dee asks if she can have them. These quilts are part of Mama's heritage. They represent her ancestors. Little pieces of ancestor's clothes are part of them. Dee did not care about them. She was going to hang them on the wall to show her African heritage.
Mama has had enought of Dee's foolishness. "I promised those quilts to Maggie. You can take one of the others that I made."
Dee does not want those. "Maggie will put these on the bed for everyday use." Maggie comes out of the kitchen and tells Mama that Dee can have them. Mama grabs them out of Dee's hands and plops them into Maggie's lap.
Mama says: "They are Maggies."
Dee greatly resents this. She grabs up her things. Finally, she tells Maggie she needs to make something of herself.
For the first time, Mama looks hard at Maggie. She knows the Johnson family history. She loved the grandmothers that made these quilts. Mama reaches to Maggie and hugs her.
Maggie smiled...a real smile, not scared. After we watched the car dust settle I asked Maggie to bring me a dip of snuff. And then the two of us sat there just enjoying, until it was time to go in the house and go to bed.
This was an important day for Maggie. Mama stood up to Dee. For the first time, she felt loved by her mother. Maggie's smile was real and came from the heart. The quilts were hers.