Everyday Use

Dee Character Analysis

Dee, a young, well-educated, and self-confident African-American woman, is Mama’s daughter and Maggie’s sister. The story centers around Dee’s visit with her family at her childhood home in the Deep South. As a child, Dee was angry, bitter, and resentful towards her family and their poverty. When Dee returns to the family’s house, however, her attitude towards the family’s lifestyle has completely flipped. She covets the family’s heirlooms, but fails to appreciate them as part of her family’s daily life. Ultimately, Mama refuses to give Dee her grandmother’s quilts, opting instead to give them to Maggie.

Dee Quotes in Everyday Use

The Everyday Use quotes below are all either spoken by Dee or refer to Dee. 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 numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Harcourt edition of Everyday Use published in 2001.
Everyday Use Quotes

Who ever knew a Johnson with a quick tongue? Who can even imagine me looking a strange white man in the eye? It seems to me I have talked to them always with one foot raised in flight, with my head turned in whichever way is farthest from them. Dee, though. She would always look anyone in the eye.

Related Characters: Mama (speaker), Dee
Related Symbols: Eye contact / Vision / Gaze
Page Number: 49
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation long mobile

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How long ago was it the house burned? Ten, twelve years? Sometimes I can still hear the flames and feel Maggie’s arms sticking to me, her hair smoking and her dress falling off her in little black papery flakes. Her eyes seemed stretched open, blazed open by the flames reflected in them. And Dee…Why don’t you dance around the ashes? I’d wanted to ask her. She had hated that house so much.

Related Characters: Mama (speaker), Dee, Maggie
Page Number: 49-50
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

She used to read to us without pity; forcing words, lies, other folks’ habits, whole lives upon us two, sitting trapped and ignorant underneath her voice. She washed us in a river of make-believe, burned us with a lot of knowledge we didn’t necessarily need to know. Pressed us to her with the serious way she read, to shove us away at just the moment, like dimwits, we seemed about to understand.

Related Characters: Mama (speaker), Dee, Maggie
Page Number: 50
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

I never had an education myself. After second grade the school closed down. Don’t ask me why: in 1927 colored asked fewer questions than they do now.

Related Characters: Mama (speaker), Dee
Page Number: 50
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

A dress down to the ground, in this hot weather. A dress so loud it hurts my eyes… Earrings gold, too, and hanging down to her shoulders. Bracelets dangling and making noises when she moves to shake the folds of her dress out of her armpits. The dress is loose and flows, and as she walks closer, I like it.

Related Characters: Mama (speaker), Dee
Page Number: 52
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

She stoops down quickly and lines up picture after picture of me sitting there in front of the house with Maggie cowering behind me. She never takes a shot without making sure the house is included. When a cow comes nibbling around the edge of the yard she snaps it and me and Maggie and the house.

Related Characters: Mama (speaker), Dee, Maggie
Related Symbols: The House
Page Number: 53
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

‘What happened to Dee?’ I wanted to know.
‘She’s dead,’ Wangero said. ‘I couldn’t bear it any longer, being named after the people who oppress me.’

Related Characters: Mama (speaker), Dee (speaker)
Page Number: 53
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

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:
Quotes explanation short mobile

‘You just don’t understand,’ she said, as Maggie and I came out to the car.
‘What don’t I understand?’ I wanted to know.
‘Your heritage,’ she said.

Related Characters: Mama (speaker), Dee (speaker), Maggie
Page Number: 59
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
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Dee Character Timeline in Everyday Use

The timeline below shows where the character Dee 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
...the first-person narrator, begins the story by saying that she is waiting for her daughter Dee in the yard of her house, which she cleaned the day before in preparation for... (full context)
Education Theme Icon
Objects, Symbolism, and Writing Theme Icon
...the meeting is pleasant, warm, and loving. Mama fantasizes about making up with her daughter, Dee, on such a television show (it’s not yet clear why Mama and her daughter need... (full context)
Racism, Resistance, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
...woman, with glistening skin and a witty manner. Mama’s vision of her television reconciliation with Dee breaks as she contrasts herself as she is in real life—homely, hardworking—with how she imagines... (full context)
Education Theme Icon
...Mama contrasts Maggie’s unattractive appearance and timid carriage with her sister’s good looks and self-confidence. Dee is better proportioned than her sister, and has nicer hair. (full context)
Heritage and the Everyday Theme Icon
Education Theme Icon
Objects, Symbolism, and Writing Theme Icon
...dress disintegrating into soot. She thinks about the way the flames reflected in Maggie’s eyes. Dee was outside of the house when the fire happened, and Mama remembers her watching it... (full context)
Education Theme Icon
But it wasn’t only the house Dee hated. Mama remembers how, as a child, Dee also hated Maggie. Once Mama and their... (full context)
Education Theme Icon
Objects, Symbolism, and Writing Theme Icon
Mama also mentions Dee’s childhood desire for high quality clothing and other “nice things” to reflect her personal style.... (full context)
Education Theme Icon
Racism, Resistance, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Unlike Dee, Mama never had an education. Unfortunately for her, Mama’s school closed down after the second... (full context)
Heritage and the Everyday Theme Icon
Objects, Symbolism, and Writing Theme Icon
...takes in the tin roof, the windows without glass in them. Mama thinks that when Dee arrives, she will want to tear it down. Mama remembers how Dee was ashamed of... (full context)
Education Theme Icon
Not, Mama thinks, that Dee had many friends. But she did have a few. Mama remembers them— “furtive” boys and... (full context)
Objects, Symbolism, and Writing Theme Icon
Mama’s reminiscing stops when, at last, Dee and her partner (Mama is unsure if they are married or not), Hakim-a-Barber, arrive at... (full context)
Objects, Symbolism, and Writing Theme Icon
Racism, Resistance, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Next, Dee greets her family in Luganda, an African language, saying “Wa-su-zo Tean-o!” Hakim-a-barber follows suit, saying... (full context)
Heritage and the Everyday Theme Icon
Objects, Symbolism, and Writing Theme Icon
After they say hello, Dee retrieves a camera from her car and takes pictures of Maggie and Mama with their... (full context)
Heritage and the Everyday Theme Icon
Racism, Resistance, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
When photography session is over, Mama addresses Dee by name. Dee, however, corrects Mama, and tells Mama to instead call her “Wangero,” an... (full context)
Heritage and the Everyday Theme Icon
Racism, Resistance, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
As Mama explains the name’s lineage, Dee and Hakim-a-Barber give each other looks over her mother and sister’s heads, communicating through eye... (full context)
Racism, Resistance, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Mama reflects that Dee and Hakim-a-Barber’s greeting of “Asalamakim” reminds her of the cattle farmers down the road, who... (full context)
Heritage and the Everyday Theme Icon
Objects, Symbolism, and Writing Theme Icon
The family eats dinner together— collard greens and pork. The fare disgusts Hakim-a-barber, but delights Dee, who eats the cornbread and potatoes with gusto. (full context)
Heritage and the Everyday Theme Icon
Objects, Symbolism, and Writing Theme Icon
Mama notices Dee’s newfound enthusiasm for the family’s possessions. Dee strokes the “rump prints” on the family’s worn... (full context)
Heritage and the Everyday Theme Icon
Objects, Symbolism, and Writing Theme Icon
Dee excitedly runs over to the butter churn and asks if she can have the churn... (full context)
Heritage and the Everyday Theme Icon
Objects, Symbolism, and Writing Theme Icon
Dee then goes on to detail how she will use the churn top as a centerpiece... (full context)
Heritage and the Everyday Theme Icon
Objects, Symbolism, and Writing Theme Icon
After dinner, Dee investigates a trunk at the foot of Mama’s bed, and emerges with two quilts. Mama... (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.... (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... (full context)
Heritage and the Everyday Theme Icon
Objects, Symbolism, and Writing Theme Icon
Unwillingly to back down, Dee argues that, by using them as blankets, Maggie would wear the quilts out in five... (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... (full context)
Objects, Symbolism, and Writing Theme Icon
Racism, Resistance, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Meanwhile, 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... (full context)
Heritage and the Everyday Theme Icon
Objects, Symbolism, and Writing Theme Icon
Racism, Resistance, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
...she will not be able to keep the quilts, and her lack of anger at Dee. Mama is suddenly struck by a feeling she describes as similar to one she gets... (full context)
Heritage and the Everyday Theme Icon
Education Theme Icon
Dee, enraged, exits the house and walks towards her car. As Maggie and Mama follow her,... (full context)
Education Theme Icon
Objects, Symbolism, and Writing Theme Icon
Racism, Resistance, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Dee then kisses Maggie goodbye and tells her she “ought to try and make something” of... (full context)
Heritage and the Everyday Theme Icon
Objects, Symbolism, and Writing Theme Icon
Mama and Maggie watch Dee’s car pull away. Then the two of them sit in the front of the house... (full context)