Everyday Use

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Quilts  Symbol Icon

The family’s quilts, sewn by Maggie and Dee’s grandmother, become the site of the family’s struggle over its heritage and the question of how best to engage with that heritage. Dee wants to take the quilts away with her, insisting that they should be hung on the wall and preserved rather than being used. Mama, on the other hand, wants to give them to Maggie, who actually learned to sew from her grandmother, and who will use the quilts daily. By demanding that the quilts be memorialized and used as decoration, Dee is attempting to place the family history firmly in an aestheticized, and thus deadened, past. Mama and Maggie, on the other hand, wish to continue using the quilts, and so continually engage with and build upon the family’s history. When Mama gives the quilts the Maggie, she ensures that the family heritage will stay alive in the manner she prefers. By using the quilts and making her own when they wear out, Maggie will add to the family’s legacy, rather than distancing herself from it.

Quilts Quotes in Everyday Use

The Everyday Use quotes below all refer to the symbol of Quilts . For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Heritage and the Everyday Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Harcourt edition of Everyday Use published in 2001.
Everyday Use Quotes

Maggie can’t appreciate those quilts! ...She’s probably backward enough to put them into everyday use.

Related Characters: Dee (speaker), Mama, Maggie
Related Symbols: Quilts
Page Number: 57
Explanation and Analysis:

Dee speaks this quote to Mama as she and Mama argue over whether Dee or Maggie should keep their grandmother’s hand-stitched quilts. Dee, who would like to hang them on her walls, believes she should keep them. Dee argues that Maggie is “backward enough” to put the quilts to “everyday use”—which is to say, to use them as blankets—as their grandmother presumably intended the quilts to be used.

When Dee describes Maggie as “backward,” she essentially betrays her contempt of the very culture that she supposedly wants to venerate and preserve—the rural life that her ancestors come from, and that Mama and Maggie still live. Dee fails to see Maggie’s use of the quilts as appreciation, and sets appreciation in contrast with “everyday use.” For Dee, appreciating her heritage means exiling it to the past, rather than continuing to interact with it in her everyday life. This quote is significant because it reveals many of the hypocrisies contained in Dee’s worldview.

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Quilts Symbol Timeline in Everyday Use

The timeline below shows where the symbol Quilts appears in Everyday Use. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Everyday Use
Heritage and the Everyday Theme Icon
Objects, Symbolism, and Writing Theme Icon
...dinner, Dee investigates a trunk at the foot of Mama’s bed, and emerges with two quilts. Mama observes that they are quilts she made together with Grandma Dee and Aunt Dee,... (full context)
Heritage and the Everyday Theme Icon
Objects, Symbolism, and Writing Theme Icon
Sweetly, Dee asks to take her grandmother’s quilts home with her in addition to the butter churn. Mama suggests she take some of... (full context)
Heritage and the Everyday Theme Icon
Education Theme Icon
Objects, Symbolism, and Writing Theme Icon
Mama at last tells Dee that she cannot give her the quilts because she promised to give the quilts to Maggie for her marriage to John Thomas,... (full context)
Heritage and the Everyday Theme Icon
Objects, Symbolism, and Writing Theme Icon
...to back down, Dee argues that, by using them as blankets, Maggie would wear the quilts out in five years. Mama, however, shrugs Dee’s point off, saying that if Maggie does... (full context)
Heritage and the Everyday Theme Icon
Objects, Symbolism, and Writing Theme Icon
Still, Dee insists that it is those particular quilts she thinks are important. Mama asks what Dee intends to do with them anyway, and... (full context)
Objects, Symbolism, and Writing Theme Icon
Racism, Resistance, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
...Maggie comes and stands by the door. She tells Mama that Dee can have the quilts, sounding like “somebody used to never winning anything.” Maggie says that she can remember her... (full context)
Heritage and the Everyday Theme Icon
Objects, Symbolism, and Writing Theme Icon
Racism, Resistance, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
...her too-big clothes, her sad resignation that she will not be able to keep the quilts, and her lack of anger at Dee. Mama is suddenly struck by a feeling she... (full context)