February 24, 2010 Maggie and Dee; Two Sisters, Two Worlds The genuine appreciation of heritage and family is the focus of Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use”. Dee and Maggie’s characters are the vessels that Walker uses to demonstrate the difference between appreciating possessions for their usefulness as well as their personal significance and their contrasting value as a trendy, materialistic connection. There is a palpable difference between Maggie and Dee, both in physical appearance as well as in personality traits and their treatment of the personal artifacts that come into play within the story is very telling of this.
Maggie, who is self-conscious of her appearance, and will “stand hopelessly in corners, homely and ashamed of the burn scars down her arms and legs, eying her sister with a mixture of envy and awe” (140) is conscious of the practical uses of the artifacts. From the onset of the story we are made aware of the tenderness that their mother feels towards Maggie. Even in narrating her description of Dee, her thoughts wander back to the memory of their house burning and “Maggie’s arms sticking to me, her hair smoking, and her dress falling off her in little papery flakes” (141).
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In addition to her physical flaws, Maggie is described as not being very intelligent. “Like good looks and money, quickness passed her by” (142). Yet despite what could be considered as unfortunate traits, Maggie is blessed with a kinder, gentler, more likeable persona. Imagine having suffered a tragic, deforming, childhood accident. Then picture a sibling counterpart who is, by all counts, blessed with good-looks and intelligence, and who “Even her feet were always neat-looking, as if God himself had shaped them with a certain style” (143).
It would be understandable to have taken that bad stroke of life’s luck and become a bitter, angry individual. However, Maggie, despite her mousy demeanor, inherits her mother’s rooted nature and appreciation for their heritage. There is no room for pretentiousness in Maggie’s life; it is one of basics; “She will marry John Thomas (who has mossy teeth in an earnest face)” (142). Maggie who knows how to quilt and chewed checkerberry snuff, already knows what her life has to offer. Her knowledge of her future is derived from her knowledge of her ancestry.
There appears to be no rancor in her acceptance of this. When the climactic scene occurs and Dee asks “Can I have these quilts? ” (145), Maggie’s first implied reaction is one of surprise and anger; “I heard something fall in the kitchen, and a minute later the kitchen door slammed” (145). But as someone “never used to winning anything, or having anything reserved for her” (146), Maggie succumbs and offers to let Dee have them. Although “Maggie knows how to quilt” (146), she is able to comprehend the deeper personal value of the quilts, and states that she “can ‘member Grandma Dee without the quilts”(146).
Despite their value as an item of everyday use, the quilts are meaningful to Maggie, much in the way they are to her mother who remembers having quilted them with Big Dee. The scraps, the bits and pieces and “one teeny faded blue piece, about the size of a penny matchbox, that was from Great Grandpa Ezra’s uniform that he wore in the Civil War. ” (145) hold deep significance to Maggie. Dee, on the other hand, is portrayed in a very different light by Walker. Commencing with her physical appearance; “Dee is lighter than Maggie, with nicer hair and a fuller figure” (141).
However, their differences do not end there. Dee is intelligent, ambitious and confident. Even “At sixteen she had a style of her own and knew what style was” (142). Rather than embracing her family, there is a sense of shame for her impoverished past. “She wrote me once that no matter where we “choose” to live, she will come see us. But she will never bring her friends” (143). One can sense that despite Dee’s accomplishments and natural gifts, she is at a loss for identity and is grasping at something to hold on to by attaching herself to the relics that she wants to take away.
Part of the reason that her desire to bond to her heritage via the artifacts is questionable is the fact that in the past she shunned her mother’s offer of “a quilt when she went away to college. Then she had told me they were old-fashioned, out of style” (146). Her integration into a world away from where she grew up has made her conscious of the value of her heritage, but it can be concluded that it is not for the sentimental value that her heritage holds but for the ability to flaunt that heritage to her new social circle.
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” (144). Dee wants the quilts for more materialistic reasons. She considers the quilts “priceless” (144). While both the girls came from the same upbringing and both have a desire to bond to their heritage, the reasoning behind that desire, and the difference in their motives, is indicative of their personalities. Maggie, being the one who suffered at childhood, who wasn’t blessed with beauty and intelligence, has a deeper understanding of where she came from. It was Grandma Dee and Big Dee who taught her how to quilt herself” (146). When Dee was packing up the dasher, wondering who made it, it was Maggie who responded “Aunt Dee’s first husband whittled the dash”, “His name was Henry, but they called him Stash” (145). She had a vivid recollection and genuine appreciation of her past. Dee, on the other hand, has until this point been unsuccessful at combining her good graces with a heartfelt recognition of her ancestry and her family ties.
She will “use the churn top as a centerpiece in the alcove table” (145) and when asked what she would do with the quilts she responds, “Hang them” (146). One can only wonder what would happen to those pieces when the next stylish fad comes along considering her favoring of appearances over substance. Indeed, Maggie and Dee are two truly different and unique individuals with very contrasting personalities. Works Cited Walker, Alice. “Everyday Use” Literature and the Writing Process. Ed. Elizabeth McMahan, Susan X Day, and Robert Funk. 8th ed. Upper Saddle River; Prentice, 2007. 140 – 146.