Two Sisters in Everyday Use
Often two children are brought up in the same environment and turn out completely different. This is the case of Maggie and Dee, the two sisters in Alice Walker's "Everyday Use." Although the girls were raised by the same woman, in the same home, their similarities end here. Maggie and Dee are different in their appearances, their personalities, and their ideas about the family artifacts.
Maggie is not as attractive as Dee. She is a thin and awkward girl. Her mother notes "good looks passed her by" (88). Furthermore, she carries herself like someone with low self-esteem, "chin on chest, eyes on ground" (87). On the other hand, Dee is an attractive woman. Her mother describes Dee as having, "nice hair and a full figure" (87). Dee takes pride in the her appearance. She dresses in fashionable clothes. When Dee arrives for her visit, her mother says, "Even her feet were always neat-looking" (88).
Besides their appearances, Maggie and Dee have unique personalities. When Maggie is first introduced in the story, she is nervous about her sister’s visit. In fact, Dee's arrival makes Maggie so uncomfortable that she tries to flee to the safety of the house (88). Maggie is also intimidated by Dee, as shown when Maggie is unable to confront Dee about the quilts. Maggie gives in and says that Dee may have the quilts because she is not used to "winning" (91). Unlike Maggie, Dee is a bold young woman (88). As a young girl, Dee has never been afraid to express herself. Her mother remembers that "she would always look anyone in the eye. Hesitation was no part of her nature" (87). Dee also shows herself to be selfish when she sets her sights on the butter churn. Dee does not seem to care that her family is still using the churn. She states that she will "display part of it in her alcove, and do something artistic with the rest of it" (90).
The family artifacts are important to both Maggie and Dee, but for different reasons. Maggie values the family quilts for their sentiment and usefulness. She learned how to quilt from her grandmother and aunt who made the quilts. Her mother has been saving the quilts for Maggie to use after she is married. The quilts are meant to be used and appreciated everyday. Maggie hints that she sees the quilts as a reminder of her grandmother and aunt when she says, "I can 'member them without the quilts" (91).
Dee also values the family quilts. She sees the quilts as priceless objects to own and display. Going off to college has brought Dee a new awareness of her heritage. She returns wearing ethnic clothing and has changed her name to "Wangero." She explains to her mother and Maggie that changing her name is the way to disassociate herself from "the people who oppress [her]'? (89). Before she went away to college, the quilts were not good enough for her. Her mother had offered her one of the quilts, but she stated, "They were old-fashioned and out of style" (91). Now she is determined to have the quilts to display in her home. Dee believes that she can appreciate the value of the quilts more than Maggie, who will "be backward enough to put them to everyday use" (9l). Dee wants the quilts for more materialistic reasons. She considers the quilts "priceless" (91).
Indeed Maggie and Dee are two sisters who have turned out very differently. Maggie is awkward and unattractive, while Dee is confident and attractive. Maggie is content with her simple life, while Dee wants to have fine things. Maggie is nervous and intimidated by Dee, who is bold and selfish. Maggie values the sentiment of the family quilts, while Dee wants to display them as a symbol of her heritage. Walker has shown that children raised in the same environment can and do turn into unique individuals.
Walker, Alice. "Everyday Use." Literature‑ An Introduction to Reading and Writing 5th ed. Eds. Edgar V. Roberts and Henry E. Jacobs. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 1998. 86‑92.
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