March 27, 2015 The Quilt as a Uniter and Divider Alice Walker’s short story, “Everyday Use,” focuses on the relationships between African-American family members, and basic understanding of the importance of heritage and personal histories…
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It is this quilt, a symbol and historical accounting of the struggles, trial, and tribulations of black women in America, that divides the family, and illustrates Walker’s frustration with the desire by many modern women to break away from their past, and to devalue the true struggles and accomplishments of African-American women, within the context of a life filled with prejudice and hardship. As the modern and foreward-thinking daughter, Dee, visits home and her mother, Mama and sister, Maggie, Dee looks for and finds two quilts that Mama and her sister, Dicie, had worked on together and created. The bonds of sisterhood in the Jim Crowe South were of the utmost importance to survival, and quilts in general represent this bond and struggle for survival. Not only are they wonderful folk art, but are also representations--a visual accounting-- of the struggle for light in a darkened world. This marvelous history, chronicled in quilts, is one to be valued, and remembered, a testament to a history filled with pride and struggles. It is clear in this short story that Mama and Maggie, still living in the homestead, and rooted in the culture of the South, value this history. Dee, on the other hand, is only in to visit, has married a man with a foreign religion, has eschewed her given name for an African name which Mama cannot even pronounce, and is filled with self-righteous indignation at the oppressive past of her family. In a way she wants to wear this past as a badge, but also move on from it at the same time. The quilt represents this struggle within Dee to have remnants from her family’s past, such as the quilt, but to also neatly fold it away in a drawer, and take it out when needed. Dee sees this history as something to be used and manipulated, while Mama and Maggie see it as something to be proud of, to use every day and to cover their bodies in warmth and the basic pride of remembrance. The tension in the story in manifested by the quilts and Dee’s desire to have them (Whitsett). Mama, had promised them to Maggie. Dee want the quilts, but Mama knows that Maggie deserves them more than Dee does. Although Maggie had not had the opportunities Dee has had in life, and is not as successful as Dee, Maggie represents a more traditional view of family, history, and struggles, that Dee, with all her worldliness and sophistication, cannot fathom. Dee becomes angry at Mama’s refusal to let her take what she wants from the house. Mama can sense that Dee will not treat the quilts with the requisite respect that Maggie would. The quilt is used to highlight the tension between Mama and Dee, and Dee and Maggie, in particular. Dee and Maggie have had a fractured relationship throughout their lives, and represent the struggle between modernism and traditionalism in the black community. Many want to wear their heritage like a trophy, take on African names, dress in African garb, to show their former “oppressors” that they are strong, powerful, and independent. This means moving on from the lifestyle that Mama and Maggie represent--one of traditional respect to their own family, and the strong women who led families and held the African American family together in difficult times. While Mama and Aunt Dicie were close sisters and created the beautiful quilts together, Maggie and Dee have no such relationship and barely talk, with little sisterhood or communication between them. Indeed, the more modern Dee looks down on Maggie and feels she can waltz in the house,
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