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When two children are brought up by the same parent in the same environment, one might logically conclude that these children will be very similar, or at least have comparable qualities. In Alice Walker's "Everyday Use," however, this is not the case. The only thing Maggie and Dee share in common is the fact that they were both raised by the same woman in the same home. They differ in appearance, personality, and ideas that concern 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
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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
beautiful. Maggie is content with her simple life, while Dee wants to have
an extravagant lifestyle. Maggie is nervous and intimidated by Dee, who, in turn, 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 many times 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.