What is the main conflict in "Everyday Use" by Alice Walker?

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The main conflict in "Everyday Use" is cultural and plays out over the best use of a beautiful handmade quilt, a piece of traditional Americana. Is it better off preserved and kept perfect hanging on the wall of the home of Dee, an urban intellectual, or in the hands of the humble Maggie, to be used and worn out as a blanket?

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The main conflict in the story is cultural. Dee, the more "perfect" daughter, has transcended her humble farm roots to become an educated, urban intellectual, an upward trajectory our society values as an expression of the American Dream. Her values and priorities clash with those of Maggie and her mother...

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who stayed behind living in a traditional way in a humble cabin.

The culture clash primarily plays out over which daughter has the best right to a handmade quilt. Dee, who takes pride in her education and unquestioningly considers herself superior to the mother and sister she has left behind, wants the beautiful and painstakingly crafted quilt so that she can hang it on her apartment wall as an example of Black Americana. To her, it is a valuable artifact representing her heritage that she will protect from damage. She will not use it, but treat it as work of art.

Maggie, on the other hand, would use the quilt everyday as a covering to keep herself warm, the use for which it was intended. In her hands, the quilt would get worn out, but it would have a practical and functional use value.

In choosing Maggie to receive the quilt, the mother affirms the traditional value of practical utility, the idea that things are made to be used, not become static, frozen art objects. In doing so, she affirms the worth and humanity of her humble and damaged younger daughter. Things and people, the story implies, don't have to be preserved and perfect to be of greatest value.

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The main conflict in Alice Walker's short story "Everyday Use" might be seen as the choice that the mother needs to make in how she treats her two very different daughters. To me, the mother-as-narrator calls attention to her central role in the main conflict, and the use of the phrase "everyday use" calls attention to the two daughters' different views of the quilts and other family heirlooms.

As might be expected in this conflict, the reader is prompted to take sides, too. I have the strong impression that most readers side with Maggie and believe that she, not Dee, truly knows how to value the family heirlooms and the heritage that they represent. All it takes are a few questions, though -- such as "Is it always wrong to protect unique and irreplaceable quilts from the wear and tear of 'everyday use'?" or "Is it always wrong to leave home when you grow up and to make deliberate, conscious changes in how you live your life?" -- to challenge the oversimplified view that one daughter is correct and the other is wrong in all things.

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Another way of phrasing that main conflict is to consider it in terms of identity, the ways in which our culture constructs it and we search for it.  In this way, the dominant internal conflict is the individual asking herself "who am I?" Within each of us different ideas of who we are compete with each other, and Walker would argue this is particularly true for black women. In an interview Walker says that she thinks Dee (a photographer and collector of art and even creates herself as a work of art), Maggie (the quilt maker, symbolic of traditional women's art), and mama, who narrates the story are all artists, and all represent herself split into 3 parts conflicting with each other.  For Walker as a writer, "Everyday Use" is the story of the conflicts within her to develop her own identity and become the writer that she is.

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The basic conflict in this story is Maggie's knowledge of every day things and her intention to use them for their purposes, and her sister (Dee), who considers herself more worldly and educated and who thinks these every day things should be hung up and admired as antiques.

Maggie is not stupid, but she is scarred from a housefire, and her confidence is lacking.  She is a humble, loving, and simple person who adores her mother and just wants to live.  She knows how to sew, quilt, and make butter like her mother and grandmother.

Her sister is lovely, has gone off to school, treats both Maggie and her mother as beneath her...almost embarrassing because of their simple and backward ways.  She is arrogant, not used to being told "no," and suddenly aware of her African roots as she indicates in her dress and her boyfriend who has adopted an African name than no one can pronounce.

Maggie is quiet and is used to giving in to her sister.  When her sister insists on the quilts that her mother has already promised to give Maggie as a wedding gift, Maggie slams the kitchen door to show her anger.  She does finally come back into the house resigned to give her sister her wedding quilts.  However, Mother finally stands up to Dee and tells her she can not take Maggie's quilts.

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Alice Walker's "Everyday Use" is a classic short story from 1973.

The main conflict in the story is between materialism, representing the New, and tradition, representing the Old. The culminating event of the story occurs at the end, when Dee, the materialistic sister, fights with her mother about the distribution of family quilts:

"Maggie can't appreciate these quilts!" she said. "She'd probably be backward enough to put them to everyday use."

"I reckon she would," I said. "God knows I been saving 'em for long enough with nobody using 'em. I hope she will!" I didn't want to bring up how I had offered Dee (Wangero) a quilt when she went away to college. Then she had told they were old-fashioned, out of style.

"But they're priceless!" she was saying now, furiously; for she has a temper. "Maggie would put them on the bed and in five years they'd be in rags. Less than that!"

"She can always make some more," I said. "Maggie knows how to quilt."

Dee (Wangero) looked at me with hatred. "You just will not understand. The point is these quilts, these quilts!"

"Well," I said, stumped. "What would you do with them?"

"Hang them," she said. As if that was the only thing you could do with quilts.(Walker, "Everyday Use," xroads.virginia.edu)

Dee, in her drive to forget her past and embrace the progressive future, has already changed her name (the parenthetical Wangero) to distance herself from her family. Here, she wishes to receive the quilts she rejected in her youth so she can hang them and show off her cultural heritage to friends -- but without actually living the heritage. Her mother, the narrator, wants the quilts to be used for their real purpose, as blankets to keep people warm, not as decorations where they will be examined and exclaimed over like museum pieces. Dee cares only about her superficial outward appearance; her mother and Maggie care about their inner knowledge and heritage, and Maggie will make new quilts when these fall apart. Dee, however, would be forced to buy new ones, since she has no real concept of her heritage.

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What is the conflict and how is it resolved in "Everyday Use" by Alice Walker?

Alice Walker's "Everyday Use" provides insight into the importance of heritage and legacy to not only African-American but to all families.  There is a problem in this family which stems from two sources: a generation gap and lack of respect.  The time of the story is the mid 1960s, and the "Negro" has become the African-American.

Mama [Mrs. Johnson] is the protagonist in the story.  Her character represents many mothers who work hard, devote themselves to their children, and hope that the children's lives are better than theirs. Narrating the story, Mama conveys her views of both of the daughters, who are as different as night and day. 

Mama daydreams about her oldest daughter, Dee, wishing that they could have a better relationship. Never able to go to school, Mama cannot read; however, she is proud to say that she can work as well as any man, from killing and butchering a pig to milking a cow.

The conflict arises from Dee and her disdain for her life at home.  Lacking the basic feelings of sympathy, empathy, and respect, Dee concerns herself only with her needs.  She wants to get away from home and leave all of this banality behind her.

When the family's house burns, Maggie is severely burned; but Dee ignores her and seems pleased that the old house is gone.  Maggie is forever scarred emotionally and physically. Expressing no outward emotion, Mama thinks that Dee hates Maggie. 

After the church and Mama raise the money for Dee to go away to college, Dee promises to manage to visit home. The story circulates around this visit. Maggie dreads the visit, unsure of what Dee will be like.  Mama cannot wait to see her educated daughter.

When Dee shows up, she is dressed in the "Black Muslin" attire. Furthermore, she has changed her name to Wangero.  Mama accepts all of these differences with her usual good nature. Still, Dee shows no affection for Mama or Maggie. 

Dee goes inside the house and begins rummaging around. She comes across two quilts which are an important part of Mama's legacy.  Two grandmothers handmade the quilts using pieces of Mama's ancestor's clothing.  Dee wants to hang the quilts on the walls in her home.  Mama would liked to have reminded Dee that she had offered her a quilt to take with her to college, but Dee said they were old fashioned.

Mama has finally had enough of Dee's arrogance and selfishness.  She tells Dee that she cannot have the quilts because they belong to Maggie.  Unhappy about Mama's refusal, Dee says that Maggie will put them [the quilts] to "everyday use" and ruin them.  Offered other quilts that Mama had made, Dee ignores her. 

Dee tries to explain her black heritage to Mama who knows that this is just for show. 

'You just don't understand,' Dee said, as Maggie and I came out to the car.

'What don't I understand?' I wanted to know.

'Your heritage,' she said. 'You ought to try to make something of yourself, too Maggie, It's really a new day for us.  But from the way you and Mama still live you'd never know it.'

As Mama listens and watches Dee, she realizes that she has been wrong to place Dee up on a pedestal.  Dee has forgotten that she is not only black but American as well. It was as though God spoke to her. She grabbed Maggie and hugged her for the first time. As Dee drove away, Mama felt happy. Her conflict was resolved because she was at home with Maggie.  

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What is Maggie's conflict in the short story "Everyday Use" by Alice Walker?

Maggie's conflict is both with her sister, Dee, and herself. Unlike Dee, who is smart, attractive, and determined to rise above her family's impoverished socioeconomic status, Maggie is shy, lacks self confidence, and has been permanently marked by her experience in a fire that burned their house to the ground. Of course, Maggie resents Dee for her sense of "style" and her escape to the city, but Maggie's real problem is that she has no self esteem. When Dee asks for the quilts that had been set aside for her, Maggie agrees to let Dee take them, "like somebody used to never winning anything, or having anything reserved for her." It's all to easy for her to cave in to her sister.

It's clear that Dee's new found enthusiasm for her country upbringing is a pose, just like (the story suggests) her new Muslim name. Her visit is about looting the house of "artifacts," much in the same way Lord Elgin looted the Elgin Marbles from Athens. In other words, Dee is ironically a kind of colonizer or oppressor, and her mother's decision to let Maggie keep the quilts is both an affirmation of Maggie's superiority to Dee and a repudiation of Dee's desire to appropriate her family heritage. The story ends with Dee leaving in a huff and Maggie smiling a "real" smile, perhaps for the first time in her life "not scared."

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What is Maggie's conflict in the short story "Everyday Use" by Alice Walker?

Maggie's internal conflict concerns her low self-esteem and insecurities, which are juxtaposed with her confident, successful sister, Dee. As a child, Maggie suffered serious burns during a house fire and is extremely self-conscience about her physical appearance. Maggie is also uneducated and timid, which is depicted by her shy personality and the soft guttural noises she makes when her sister comes home to visit. Essentially, Maggie lives in the shadow of Dee and views her as vastly superior. Maggie does not view herself as worthy until the end of the story, when her mother stands up for her.

Maggie's external conflict concerns Dee receiving their grandparents' antique quilts, which were promised to Maggie when she marries John Thomas. When Dee comes across the old quilts and asks Mama to have them, Mama mentions that they were promised to Maggie. Even though Maggie cherishes the old quilts and wishes to have them, she acquiesces and says that Dee can take them. Maggie is used to seeing Dee get what she wants and comes to terms with the fact that she will not have her grandparents' quilts.

However, Mama stands up for Maggie by refusing to give them to Dee. Despite Dee's pleas that Maggie will use the antique quilts for "everyday use," Mama refuses to give them away. By the end of the story, Maggie seems to have gained more self-esteem after realizing that she truly understands and appreciates her family's heritage in a way that Dee cannot comprehend.

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What is Maggie's conflict in the short story "Everyday Use" by Alice Walker?

In "Everyday Use," Maggie has two conflicts:  one external and the other internal.  Maggie's external conflict revolves around her sister Dee getting everything that she wants while Maggie remains in the background.  Mama has promised Maggie the quilts, but when Dee visits, she says that she wants to take the quilts so that she can display them as artwork.  Maggie is used to Mama giving Dee her way, so she remains quiet and does not stand up for herself.  Maggie is shocked when Mama takes her side and tells Dee to take one of the machine-sewn quilts instead.  Based on this external conflict, Maggie has developed the internal conflict of low self-esteem.  Maggie has been burned in a previous house fire, and she walks with a shuffle.  She is not as intelligent or outspoken as her sister Dee, so Maggie internalizes feelings of not being as good as her sister.  Maggie often recesses into the shadows of conversations, and several times throughout the story, Maggie makes guttural utterances to voice her feelings rather than actually speaking up for herself.  The end of the story suggests that Maggie is on the path of resolving both her external and internal conflicts:  Dee leaves and it seems that she will not return, and Maggie sits right next to Mama outside suggesting that they have a renewed relationship that puts value on Maggie as a person.

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What is the main conflict in 'Everyday Use' and in the main character/narrator?

The main conflict in this story is between past and present, between tradition and modernity.

The narrator faces this conflict in the form of her two daughters. Dee, the elder, has gone out into the world, acquired an education and certain, supposedly advanced ideas about what a modern African American woman should be like. Her other daughter, Maggie, lives quietly at home, following the old ways, doing the housework and preparing for marriage. 

The conflict comes to a head in the shape of the old family quilts which Dee wants to take away with her to effectively preserve as museum pieces, quaint relics of a past which she feels she herself has left behind. However, the narrator has always intended these quilts for Maggie when she gets married. Maggie will actually use the quilts because to her and to the narrator they are part of an ongoing way of life, a living culture and not a dead past, as they are to Dee.

The narrator is forced to choose between the two when Dee implacably demands to be given the quilts. In an instant she makes her decision - indeed, it comes as a moment of revelation which imbues her with an almost religious ecstasy: 'just like when I'm in church and the spirit of God touches me and I get happy and shout'.

The narrator realises that the quilts properly belong to Maggie, to the traditional way of life; this is where they will be truly appreciated and used, and not flaunted as items of folk culture, as Dee would have it. Therefore she resolves the conflict by snatching the quilts from Dee and handing them to Maggie. 

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What are the main social conflicts in "Everyday Use"?

Three of the main social conflicts in "Everyday Use" are illustrated in the relationships between Dee and her sister Maggie. One of these is the social conflict about the need for social connectedness to one's past roots. On one hand, Maggie values her recent roots and what she sees as her individualism stemming from her immediate family line. On the other hand, Dee values her ancient roots and the Africanism behind her Americanism.

A related social conflict is whether ancestors are best remembered for their personal individuality or for their ethnic individuality. Maggie remembers her ancestors for their personal individuality, valuing their old belongings as mementos of love and devotedness. Dee prefers to remember ancestors and their past possessions for the link they give her to a deeper past identity grounded in her ethnic roots. Therefore their old possessions aren't objects of everyday use but objects of priceless value as representing an historical rootedness.

The same holds true for a third social conflict, that of the menaing of the community. Dee doesn't feel a need to be connected to the present community whereas Maggie does. Dee feels that her real connectedness is with her historic past while Maggie feels her connectedness is with her immediate community. In reality, these conflicts are resolved when past rootedness and present connectedness can exist side-by-side in an individual, as both are needed.

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