“I did something I never had done before: hugged Maggie to me…”
Mama, the narrator of Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use,” sees her daughter Maggie in a different light for the first time. As head of the household, Mama or Mrs. Johnson believes that family legacy and heritage rise above everything else. She has worked hard to give the best she can to her two daughters. Uneducated but with common sense, Mama has dreamed of having a fairy tale relationship with her older and pretty daughter Dee.
Mama loves both of her daughters. However, when she describes Maggie, the youngest, Mama describes her in harsh terms. Maggie’s description includes shyness, limitations, uneducated, and unsophisticated. After being burned horribly in their home fire, Maggie suffers from her injuries. She is scarred and almost ugly to the outside world. Even the way she walks is reflected in Mama’s description of Maggie---she shuffles with her chin on her chest and her eyes on the ground.
Maggie has been protected by Mama. Representing the selfless, uncorrupted aspect of human nature, Maggie may marry a man who has courted her, but it is doubtful that this will change Maggie in any significant way. As she grew up, Maggie paid attention to the family treasures. She remembers Grandma Dee and the making of the quilts. These things are important to her as much as to her mother. Mama knows that Maggie will be responsible for watching over the family heritage.
When Dee tries to take the quilts from Mama and Maggie, Maggie expresses emotions for the first time. She drops dishes and slams doors indicating that she does not believe that Dee has any right to these quilts made by loving hands. Dee indicts Maggie by saying that she will use the quilts every day and ruin them. Finally, Mama stands up to Dee and tells her that the quilts belong to Maggie.
Maggie offers to give the quilts to Dee.
“She can have them, Mama,” she said, like somebody used to never winning anything, or having anything reserved her her. “I can ‘member Grandma Dee without the quilts.”
Mama sees for the first time that Maggie wants to please Dee, but Dee does not care who she hurts. This stirs emotions in Mama that she had not felt toward Maggie before.
Maggie knows her family history and has the knowledge of the crafts her grandmother taught her mother. Like her mother, Maggie is a survivor who has not received the appreciation for the abilities that she does have. The stance that Mama takes against Dee pleases Maggie and for the first time her smile is described as “a real smile, not scared.” She feels triumphant probably for the first time in her life.
Mama and Maggie withstand Dee’s raid on the family legacy and their integrity. Mama draws Maggie in for the first time and sees her for the valuable human being that she is. They will sit in the front lawn together relaxed and proud. No longer do they need to feel intimidated by Dee.