In Alice Walker's short story "Everyday Use," why is Mama comfortable with leaving the quilts for Maggie?

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vangoghfan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Alice Walker’s short story “Everyday Use,” Mama feels comfortable leaving the quilts to Maggie rather than to Dee (Wangero) for a number of reasons, including the following:

  • She wants to affirm Maggie, who lacks the self-confidence that Dee possesses in abundance.  Dee doesn’t need much affirmation from others.
  • The quilts symbolize a heritage that Dee has largely rejected (even though she thinks she hasn’t). Dee will not appreciate the quilts as they were truly meant to be appreciated, nor will she use them as they were truly meant to be used.  Maggie will both appreciate them and use them.
  • The quilts actually mean something to Maggie; they mean very little to Dee.
  • Dee immediately acts as if the quilts belong to her, even moving them out of her mother’s reach.  Dee’s attitudes and behaviors are presumptuous and selfish, unlike Maggie’s.
  • Mama has already promised to give the quilts to Maggie and explicitly tells Dee of the promise, which Dee typically ignores.  By giving the quilts to Maggie, Mama in a sense merely fulfills her promise.
  • Mama had previously offered Dee a quilt, years earlier, but the offer had been rejected since quilts at that time were out of style.  Maggie’s appreciation of the quilts has been long and consistent and will remain so.
  • Dee seems to regard the quilts mainly in economic terms, as when she exclaims that the quilts are “priceless!” (a phrase which actually suggests that in fact they would bring a very high price if they were ever sold).  Maggie’s attachment to the quilts is not determined by their economic value.
  • Dee would merely hang the quilts, putting them on display and thereby making them part of her own self-display. Maggie would value the quilts for themselves, not for how they would make her appear to others.
  • Paradoxically, Maggie’s willingness to part with the quilts shows that she is the person who should really possess them.
  • The discussion about the quilts eventually becomes a battle of wills between Mama and a highly disrespectful and even angry Dee. Mama doesn’t intend to lose the battle.
  • By being willing to sacrifice to quilts, Maggie shows her love for her mother – love which her mother reciprocates by giving Maggie the quilts.
  • Mama feels a moral, indeed almost a religious obligation, to give the quilts to Maggie.  It suddenly occurs to her that doing so is the only right and just course of action:

When I looked at her [that is, Maggie] . . . something just hit me in the top of my head and ran down to the soles of my feet.  Just like when I’m in church and the spirit of God touches me and I get happy and shout.

  • Giving the quilts to Maggie has a triple effect: it affirms Maggie; it puts Dee in her place (for once); and it gives Mama the sense that she has dealt justly with both of her daughters.