Everyday Use: Compare and Contrast the Way Dee and Maggie Are About the Quilts
Poles apart from each other in their behavior, both the sisters, Dee and Maggie in Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use”, seem to like the quilts and want to possess or inherit it. However, on a careful reading of the story, it becomes evident that Maggie cares more for the quilts than Dee and that their perception of the quilts is starkly different from each other. The quilts which are items for “everyday use”, as the title suggests, are also symbolic of the family’s tradition. They stand for the family’s tradition, values, and past. Therefore, a close introspection of the two sister’s attitudes towards their past and tradition will also lead us to answer how each of them actually differs in their value and cares for the quilts.
“I will wait for her in the yard that Maggie and I made so clean and wavy yesterday afternoon” (314). From the very beginning of the story, we find that Maggie is the girl who cares for her mother and her house. Throughout the story we find her engaged in some of the other activities related to the house. She is seen making a “dash for the house” (317), or cleaning soiled dishes, “Maggie hung back in the kitchen over the dishpan” (319). It is clear from her portrayal by the narrator that she is a girl who takes care of everything and therefore the fact that she will take care of the quilts seems to be obvious. On the other hand, Dee is the girl who stood silently and watched her house burn. She “hated” the house (316). “Why don’t you do a dance around the ashes? I’d wanted to ask her” says the narrator (316). This, in turn, makes the reader doubt Dee’s attachment to the things her family values dearly and whether she could have taken good care of the quilts.
Dee seems not to care much about the emotions of her family. To the dismay of her mother, Dee comes with a changed name, “Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo” (318) and does not think twice mentioning that “Dee” is dead.” “She’s dead,” Wangero said. “I couldn’t bear it any longer being named after the people who oppress me.” ” (318). However, for her mother, the name stood as a kind of family tradition inherited from her aunt who in turn inherited it from her grandmother. The narrator’s reference to her as Wangero for the rest of the story points to the fact that “Dee” is indeed dead and Wangero is now an outsider who has deliberately snapped her connection with her past. Maggie, however, values her past and remembers the story behind every household item. “Aunt Dee’s first husband whittled the dash,… His name was Henry, but they called him Stash” (319). To her, everything in the house has a history, a part in the tradition, to which she herself belongs.
It is interesting to note that for Dee (Wangero), the old household items were more like antique pieces that she would like to possess and display rather than cherish. The first question that Dee asks her mother about picking up an old household item is, “I knew there was something I wanted to ask you if I could have” (319) and then without waiting for her mother’s consent she goes and picks up the churn top for her collection. There is an eerie sense of detachment from the whole thing as she remembers who carved the churn top and fails to recall who made the dasher. It is in this similar fashion that she asks for the “old quilts” which she had once denied and called “out of style”. The quilts now have, however, caught her fancy for they have been made from bits and pieces of the clothing worn by her aunt, grandmother, and great grandfather. To her, it is beyond imagination and thus she wonders aloud: “Imagine!” (320) and thinks the best way of appreciating these “Priceless” (320) things would be by hanging them in her house. However, for Maggie, who was promised the possession of the quilts by her mother, they stood for tradition; a means of remembering her grandmother who taught her to quilt herself. She carries the tradition within herself and thus has the generosity to say, “She can have them, Mama…I can ‘member Grandma Dee without the quilts” (320).
All the above-mentioned differences between the two sisters lead us to conclude that Maggie will undoubtedly take good care of the quilts. Moreover, the narrator’s action towards the end of the story helps to clear all doubts from the reader’s mind. Even after Dee’s statement that “Maggie would put them on the bed and in five years, they’d be in rags. Less than that!”(320) the narrator gifts the quilts to Maggie pointing to the fact that she is the rightful owner of the quilts.