In “Everyday Use” each character symbolizes a different attitude towards African-American heritage. The story was set in presumably the late 60s. This was at a point in history where African-Americans were trying to create a new cultural identity. Mama represented older African-American culture. Dee a new portion of African-American culture. A culture that wants to reconnect with their African roots and stray away from their old heritage. Maggie represents the African-Americans who respect the value of their heritage and know it has a deeper importance to the fiber of who they are as a person.
In the story, we learn that Dee is a selfish and materialistic person. From the beginning of her visit back home we see how self absorbed she is when instead of greeting her family she takes pictures of the house and of her mother. Along with that she is dressed excessively. Walker writes, "Dee wanted nice things. A yellow organdy dress to wear to her graduation from high school" (487). Following that, when Dee came to visit she was dressed excessively as told by Mama, "A dress down to the ground, in this hot weather. A dress so loud it hurts my eyes. There are yellows and oranges enough to throw back the light of the sun I fell my whole face warming from the heat waves it throws out. Earrings, too, gold and hanging down from her shoulders. Bracelets dangling and making noises when she moves her arm to shake the folds of the dress out of her armpits." (488)...
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... sees the quilts for their purpose, not their beauty. Maggie’s seen to be selfless when she tells Mama, “She can have them, Mama,” she said. “I can ‘member Grandma Dee without the quilts.” (491). Maggie has more of a traditional view of the quilts. She sympathizes with Mama because she cherishes and appreciates her family heritage. Maggie’s attitude towards the quilts contrasts that of Dee’s. Although Maggie would be losing the quilts, she’d keep the tradition going since from Grandma Dee and Big Dee had taught her how to quilt.
In the end, you can tell how each character feels about their heritage, Dee leaves quilt-less, eyes covered by sunglasses as if to hide herself from the truth about her heritage. Maggie gets to keep the quilts as Mama saved for her to use them for their true purpose. Mama is satisfied to carry on her life despite how old fashioned it may be.
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