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I think it is important to focus on the setting of the story to think about the kind of message that Walker is wanting to convey and, in addition, the kind of audience she has in mind. This story takes place in the rural South during the 1960s, when values and ways of life were changing rapidly. The story concerns traditions and, in particular, some family heirlooms, especially the quilts. Let us also remember that quilting is an American folk art. In the South, quilts have a rich tradition influenced by African textile designs and historic American patterns. Quilts are often passed down in families for generations.
Bearing in mind this setting, let us think through the message of this story. Clearly the central conflict in this tale is Mama's decision not to give the quilts to Dee and to give them to Maggie. It is clear that these quilts are an incredibly important part of their family heritage:
They had been pieced by Grandma Dee, and then Big Dee and me had hung them on the quilt frames on the front porch and quilted them. One was in the Lone Star pattern. The other was Walk Around the Mountain. In both of them were scraps of dresses Grandma Dee had worn fifty and more years ago. Bits and pieces of Grandpa Jarrell's paisley shirts. And one teeny faded blue piece, about the size of a penny matchbox, that was from Great Grandpa Ezra's uniform that he wore in the Civil War.
However, it is clear from Dee's attitude that she has rejected her heritage and family history in an attempt to re-connect with her African heritage. Mama's decision to give the quilts to Maggie and not to Dee, therefore, sums up the message. We must all be aware of and take pride in our family heritage. It is wrong to deny our roots. Given the massive change in values and ways of life in the 1960s, we can see Walker directing this story to those who are perhaps being so quick to embrace new values that they forget their origins and how this defines them.
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