“Everyday Use” by Alice Walker explores the relationships between a mother and her two daughters. The story takes place in the south during the late 1960s.
The mother is the narrator of the story. Her youngest daughter Maggie who was terribly burned when their home burned down still lives at home. Dee wanted things when she was growing up. Arrogant, intelligent, hard—Mama describes her daughter as wanting to get away from her family. Mama’s church provided the money for Dee to go away to college.
Today, Dee is returning for the first time. Mama and Maggie have cleaned the front yard perfectly to receive Dee. Mother thinks of the front yard as an extension of the living room. She enjoys sitting outside waiting for the cool breezes which do not come into the house. She believes that this is the best place to meet Dee.
The mother longs for a better relationship with her older daughter. The mother has worked hard to take care of family. Dee never realized or appreciated anything about her mother.
Sometimes Mama sees herself and Dee in a dream in a television show. On the stage, Dee and Mama hug and cry because they love each other and are happy to be reunited. The mother longs for this relationship with her daughter who is smart, beautiful, and now educated.
When Dee arrives, Maggie and her mother are waiting in the extended living room. Dee is dressed in bright clothing and jewelry in an African style. Dee takes picture of her mother and sister. She tells them that now she is Wangero because Dee is dead. Mama reminds her that she was named after he grandmother. This makes no difference to Dee.
It becomes obvious to Mama that Dee has something on her mind. When Dee starts pulling out things that she wants to take with her, the mother wants to know why.
As the story unfolds Dee's motives become apparent. She has come home to retrieve objects from her former life that are meaningful to her. She plans to incorporate them into her décor. She has not come to be with her family, but rather to take from them what she wants.
Mama and Maggie live every day with the knowledge that they are a part of a family whose heritage goes back beyond the Civil War. Maggie has listened to the stories of the family and knows who made the different items that are a part of the mother’s legacy. Dee never listened to such boring stories.
Dee goes to a trunk and begins to rummaging through it. She finds two quilts that she wants. One had been made by Mama’s grandmother and her mother. The material used was from the ancestors’ clothing. There was a piece of cloth that was worn during the Civil War. Dee wants to hang them on her wall.
Mama had promised these quilts to Maggie. There are other quilts that she offers Dee, but she says no to all of them.
‘Maggie can’t appreciate these quilts!’ Dee said. ‘She’d probably be backward enough to put them to everyday use.’
That does not alter the fact that for once Mama stands up to Dee and refuses to let her take the quilts.
Dee looks at her mother with hatred in her eyes. Maggie tells Dee that she can have them. Mama still refuses to let her take them.
Finally the mother realizes that she has been waiting to have a relationship with Dee. She had never realized that she had a daughter, Maggie, right next to her to whom she needed to love and show affection. Dee goes off angry telling her mother and sister that they do not understand about their heritage.