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Everyday Use

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Siblings, who grow up together, do not always end up alike. In “Everyday use,” by Alice Walker, Dee and Maggie are sisters who are both raised in the rural South. After a tragic incident of their house burning down, Maggie is left traumatized while Dee sees the incident as a positive occurrence. Ten to twelve years later, Dee comes back to their new home for a visit, and Dee and Maggie’s differences are magnified. Although Dee and Maggie are sisters who have grown up together, their physical appearances, personalities, and knowledge of heritage differ immensely.

First, Dee and Maggie have contrasting physical appearances. Dee is a full figured woman who grooms herself to impress others. Dee “has a style of her own: and knows what style is” (545). In the rural South, fashion is not as important as other aspects such as providing a meal; however Dee is able to separate herself from the idea of what is important in the South. During her high school graduation, she wears a yellow organdy dress, black pumps, and an altered green suit, which is already more contemporary than what other people wear. When Dee returns for a visit, she has a new bright, flamboyant appearance that leaves her mother and Maggie speechless because it is drastically different compared to what they are used to. Dee also has lighter skin and nicer hair, which is probably uncommon because those features are difficult to maintain after the physical labor that typically needs to be done in the South. Unlike Dee, Maggie conforms to a traditional Southern appearance. Maggie has physical traits similar to her mother such as dark skin and bad hair. Maggie’s mother compares her walk to the way an injured animal acts towards its savoir. According to their mother, Maggie has been walking with her “chin on chest, eyes on ground, [and] feet in shuffle” (544) since their house burned down.

Since Maggie feels grief from the loss of her home, she shows her sadness through her appearance. Maggie may feel like her mother has saved her by accepting her into her home, and she is physically showing her gratitude. Additionally, Maggie asks her mother about her appearance but only shows “just enough of her thin body enveloped in [a] pink skirt and red blouse, [and she is] almost hidden by the door” (544). Usually, Southern women wear comfortable, casual clothing to work in. Maggie is probably self-conscious and uncomfortable in the  unusual attire she is wearing, so she hides behind the door. Dee and Maggie are sisters, but they do not look alike.

Next, Dee and Maggie’s personalities are different. Dee is ambitious and self-motivated. For example, while their house burns downs, Dee stands under a tree and watches with concentration. Dee enjoys the moment because the old house is a symbol of entrapment in the South. She also goes to school at Augusta without encouragement from her family. Dee’s ambition relates to her physical appearance. She wears modern clothes to keep up with the rest of the world. Dee wants nice things, so perhaps she realizes that her location and family cannot fulfill her needs. Eventually, Dee moves away. Conversely, Maggie is innocent and shy. She does not want to cause trouble, so she accepts her traditional rural Southern life. For instance, Maggie does not demand to go to school; instead, she accepts her future life and marriage with John Thomas. Maggie also surrenders the quilts to Dee without a fight. Her mother thinks she is somebody who never wins anything or has anything reserved for her, which may be true because Maggie is not confrontational. Additionally, when Maggie reads to her mother, “she stumbles along good-naturedly but can’t see well” (545). Maggie is not bright and cannot read well, but she is still able to read. Maggie reads to her mother not to show off but to entertain. Dee and Maggie have very different personalities.

The most significant difference between Dee and Maggie is their understanding of heritage. Dee thinks she understands and appreciates her roots. Dee believes that claiming souvenirs and displaying them where they can be admired is how a person appreciates her heritage, but she never experiences her heritage firsthand. In fact, Dee shows that she is ashamed of her roots by changing her name to “Wangero.” Even when she tries to assimilate to another culture, she does not understand the other culture. Hakim-a-barber, Dee’s Muslim partner, does not eat collards and pork because he says the food is unclean. Although Dee changes her name into a Muslim name and uses a Muslim greeting, she does not follow the rules of the culture. This shows that Dee does not have a full understanding of any heritage. Dee wants objects, including the quilts, from her family to display. She does not understand the purpose of the items. Dee says, “Imagine” (550) in regards to the pieces of Grandma Dee’s clothing in the quilts. The historical value that Dee sees in the quilts is only the material it is made out of. On the other hand, Maggie understands and truly experiences her heritage. Maggie surrenders the quilts to Dee because she can “[remember] Grandma Dee without the quilts” (550).

Maggie learns how to make quilts firsthand from Grandma Dee and Big Dee, so she has already experienced a part of her heritage. Maggie understands that the meaning behind the quilts is the work that has been put into them, not the objects themselves. She will always have the memories of learning how to quilt. As Dee says, Maggie will also probably put them to everyday use. The purpose of the quilts is for them to be utilized. Maggie understands that Grandma Dee put her clothing into the quilts not so they can be displayed, but so the quilts can provide warmth. Dee and Maggie have a different understanding of their heritage.

In conclusion, Dee and Maggie have grown up together, but they are two very different people. After a tragic accident, Maggie is left with nothing while her sister, Dee, is blessed with an attractive appearance and education. Maggie is not resentful towards Dee, but she has a better understanding of her heritage. Their mother realizes this and accepts Maggie as her ideal daughter. In the end, the sisters continue to have different perspectives and live different lives.

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