We were assigned to write a comparison/contrast essay of 800-1000 words. My teacher accepted the topic that I chose - I decided to compare Dee and Maggie, two sisters from the story. Here is my essay :). I would be very, very grateful for some help. I'm not a native English speaker...
"Everyday Use" by Alice Walker - relationship between Maggie and Dee
In "Everyday Use" Alice Walker portrays two approaches to the African-American heritage with special emphasis on the tradition that is being handed down from mothers to daughters. Despite growing up together and sharing their childhood experiences, the two sisters portrayed in the story are as different as they could be. Maggie is attached to her African-American heritage and her home, while Dee, responding to the fashion , seeks her heritage in Africa and seems to be a stranger in her own home. They represent two poles of the possible approaches to their home and its legacy.
Even the looks and the gestures of Maggie and Dee add to the feeling of how set apart they are. We see Maggie through the eyes of her Mama "standing hopelessly in the corners, homely and ashamed," and we start to visualize a young woman who is dependent on her mother. In her home she stands "almost hidden by the door . . . chin on chest, eyes on grounds, feet in shuffle." Maggie is scared and ashamed. In contrast to this static picture of her, Dee arrives by a car and introduces to the image a sudden, energetic movement. Her whole look contrasts with the poor and simple surroundings that Maggie seems to be a part of: "a dress so loud it hurts my eyes . . . [her] bracelets dangling and making noises." Dee stands out not only because of her colorful clothing and jewelry (they remind of the traditional African style), but also because "she is lighter than Maggie, with nicer hair and a fuller figure." The described attractive and up-to-date look contrasts with the scarred arms and legs of her sister and her simple clothes. Furthermore, Maggie's stepping back and fear reminds us of the traumatic history of the enslaved African-Americans, while Dee's energetic look and pride is connected with the African part of their heritage that was never crushed.
Moreover, the way Maggie walks makes her mother compare her to a hopeless animal that "sidles up to someone . . . kind." As we see, she has not managed to emancipate herself from her mother who traces the reasons for the way she is to the fire of their house: "she has been like this . . . ever since the fire that burned the house to the ground." Maggie is affected by the experience of the fire even as an adult, Dee on the other hand easily forgets about it. In contrast to the scarred Maggie, she "was determined to stare down any disaster." This energetic approach turns in her adulthood into what can be called arrogance or disregard. Before greeting her mother and sister, Dee runs around them and their house taking pictures, as Mama says, "she snaps me and Maggie and the house. Then . . . comes up and kisses me." She is a spectator, not a participant; her heritage is something for her to picture, rather than to participate in. This greeting is stressful for Maggie who sweats and trembles, her "hand is as limp as fish." Once again we see Maggie's shyness and fear in opposition to Dee's pride and confidence. Maggie's base for heritage is her simple and basic connection to her mother and their home, while for Dee it's the idea, "the picture" of it.
The reasons for such major differences can be traced in the education the sisters were given. While Dee was sent by her mother "to Augusta to school" and later on continued her education in a college, Maggie "stumbles along" when reading. She is aware of her problems: "She knows she is not bright . . . quickness passes her by" her mother states. However, there is another type of education that she appears to be good at. Dee reveals her ignorance to the history of her family and it is Maggie, who is able to trace the origins of the objects at their house: "Aunt Dee's first husband whittled the dash, his name was Henry, but they called him Stash" she explains to her sister. Furthermore, she learned how to quilt from her grandmother, and therefore she is the one that carries on the tradition of the family. In contrast to Maggie's lasting interest in their heritage, Dee displays arrogance. She usurps her family heirloom that Mama recalls to have offered to her years earlier. Then she disliked it as "old-fashioned." Her interest is not sincere. She wants to hang it on the wall (once again being a spectator, not a participant) while Maggie's way of paying respect to her heritage is by putting the quilt to "everyday use," just as the women of her family would have done years before.
Although some may say that despite the differences, Maggie and Dee share the most crucial thing ― they know the importance of heritage, one must remember that their understanding of it differs completely. For Maggie it is something known instinctively from her mother and relatives, whereas Dee is simply reacting to a fashion or an ideology. Feeling connected to her roots in Africa, she forgets the legacy of her home. It is important to remember that Alicia Walker was writing this story in the times when it was popular for African-Americans to come back to their African roots, somehow omitting on their way the legacy of their families that was already created in America . Considering this, I conclude that one of the purposes of the story was to show the dangers of the ideology represented by Dee. It caused some African-Americans to forget how special a little less glamorous history of their own families is. And it is hiding by the door - as Maggie was.
1 Joan S. Korenman, "African-American women writers, black nationalism and the matrilineal heritage" CLA Journal 38 (December 1994): 143-161.
2 Korenman 144