Everyday Use Dee Essay Outline

Everyday Use Essay: Sisters with Nothing in Common

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Sisters with Nothing in Common in Everyday Use

   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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Everyday Use         Sisters         Only Thing         Young Woman         Maggie         Looks         Chest         Artifacts         Butter         Feet        

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.

Work Cited

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.

Dee Johnson superficially searches for her African heritage.  In “Everyday Use” by Alice Walker, the author suggests Dee’s search for her heritage is artificial.  Despite her education, Dee has no appreciation of her true inheritance.

Throughout her life, Dee was the pretty and intelligent Johnson girl. Her attitude toward her sister and mother was negative.  To Dee, her home and her family were an embarrassment. When her house burned, Dee stood and watched rather than show concern for her sister Maggie who was severely injured.

While she lived at home, Dee would read to her mother and sister, but not for their enjoyment but to make them feel her superiority.  Mama’s church provides the money for Dee’s education which she appears not to really appreciate. During and after her time in college, Dee never visited her home because she was ashamed of her family. 

The story centers on Dee’s return visit. Both her mother and sister anticipate her coming by sitting out on the lawn awaiting her arrival. The visit is nothing like what her mother had hoped for in her dreams.  Dee has changed her name to Wangero, a black muslin name. Everything about her is shiny and yet unreal. She tells her mother that Dee is dead, despite the fact that she was named after her grandmother.  Naturally, Dee has ulterior motives for her visit. 

“Oh, Mama,” she cried.  “I never knew how lovely these benches are.  You can feel the rump prints,” she said…Then she gave a sigh and her hand closed over Grandma’s Dee butter dish.  “That’s it. I knew there was something I wanted to ask you if I could have.”

Dee has always wanted something.  With no regard for her mother, Dee wants to take things that have come from her relatives.  Lacking in respect and with no genuine understanding of the importance of the things that her mother has saved, Dee places no value on her mother’s things as a part of her family legacy. Dee wants what she wants and that is to decorate her house with the black heritage items so that it will be fashionable.    

When Dee rummages through her mother’s trunk, her attitude shines through. When she left for school, her mother offered her a quilt which Dee refused.  Now she wants to take the quilts that were handmade by her grandmother and mother. 

They are important to Maggie and her mother because they understand that the cloth came from clothes of their loved ones all the way back to the civil war.  In addition, the grandmother who made the quilt was the one for which Dee was unnamed.  Dee just wants to hang the quilts on the wall.

For the first time, her mother refuses her something.  Mama tells her that she promised the quilts to Maggie. Shocked, Dee is immediately antagonistic.

“Maggie can’t appreciate these quilts!” she said.  “She’d probably be backward enough to put them to everyday use.” 

Dee is so incensed that her mother will not give into her that she decides to leave.  Ironically, she tells her family that they do not understand their heritage. She tells her sister that she ought to try to do something with her life.

Then, she gets in the car and leaves.  In her selfishness, Dee has shown herself to completely lack in respect and consideration for her mother or sister. Her actions and gestures indicate that her only reason for coming home was to take things with no thought of the hurt that she might inflict.

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