Everyday Use

Mama Character Analysis

The narrator of the story, Mama is an African-American woman living in the Deep South. She is a hard-working, practical person with simple tastes, and she lives with her younger daughter, Maggie, in their small house. Mama’s relationship with her older daughter, Dee, is strained. The story begins with Mama preparing for Dee’s impending visit. When Dee arrives, Mama submits to many of Dee’s demands, calling her by a different name and giving her family possessions. At the story’s conclusion, however, Mama stands up for herself and Maggie against Dee, refusing to give her the family quilts, and by extension asserting the validity and worth of their lifestyle.

Mama Quotes in Everyday Use

The Everyday Use quotes below are all either spoken by Mama or refer to Mama. 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:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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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
Related Symbols: The House, Eye contact / Vision / Gaze
Page Number: 49-50
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident,

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepte

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:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute ir

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:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proide

‘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:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehen

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate vel

You didn’t even have to look close to see where hands pushing the dasher up and down to make butter had left a kind of sink in the wood. In fact, there were a lot of small sinks; you could see where thumbs and fingers had sunk into the wood. It was a beautiful light yellow wood, from a tree that grew in the yard where Big Dee and Stash lived.

Related Characters: Mama (speaker)
Page Number: 56
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

‘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:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proi

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Mama Character Timeline in Everyday Use

The timeline below shows where the character Mama 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
Mama, an elderly black woman and the first-person narrator, begins the story by saying that she... (full context)
Education Theme Icon
Objects, Symbolism, and Writing Theme Icon
Mama describes television shows in which “a child who has ‘made it’” confronts her parents. On... (full context)
Heritage and the Everyday Theme Icon
Objects, Symbolism, and Writing Theme Icon
Mama transitions into describing herself and her real daily life: the way she can work outside... (full context)
Racism, Resistance, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
But in her mind, Mama’s real personhood “doesn’t show on television.” Instead, Mama pictures herself on the show as a... (full context)
Education Theme Icon
Maggie, Mama’s younger daughter, interrupts Mama’s musings, asking her mother how she looks in her pink skirt... (full context)
Heritage and the Everyday Theme Icon
Education Theme Icon
Objects, Symbolism, and Writing Theme Icon
Mama notes that Maggie’s submissiveness first became a problem after their old house burned down. She... (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 church raised... (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... (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 grade.... (full context)
Heritage and the Everyday Theme Icon
Objects, Symbolism, and Writing Theme Icon
Mama turns her back on the house, remarking on its similarity to the house that came... (full context)
Education Theme Icon
Not, Mama thinks, that Dee had many friends. But she did have a few. Mama remembers them—... (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... (full context)
Heritage and the Everyday Theme Icon
Objects, Symbolism, and Writing Theme Icon
...say hello, Dee retrieves a camera from her car and takes pictures of Maggie and Mama with their house. She makes sure to photograph Mama and Maggie together with the house,... (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... (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... (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... (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... (full context)
Heritage and the Everyday Theme Icon
Objects, Symbolism, and Writing Theme Icon
...do “something artistic” with the dasher. As Dee wraps up the dasher to take away, Mama touches it and looks it over. She ponders the thumb and handprints worn into the... (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 observes that they are quilts she made together... (full context)
Heritage and the Everyday Theme Icon
Objects, Symbolism, and Writing Theme Icon
...asks to take her grandmother’s quilts home with her in addition to the butter churn. Mama suggests she take some of the other, newer quilts, but Dee refuses, saying she does... (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... (full context)
Heritage and the Everyday Theme Icon
Objects, Symbolism, and Writing Theme Icon
...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 wear the quilts out, she... (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 Dee says she wants to... (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... (full context)
Heritage and the Everyday Theme Icon
Objects, Symbolism, and Writing Theme Icon
Racism, Resistance, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Mama thinks hard, looking at Maggie, taking in her snuff-filled lip, her burn-scarred hands hidden in... (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, Dee turns and tells them they don’t understand their “heritage.” (full context)
Education Theme Icon
Objects, Symbolism, and Writing Theme Icon
Racism, Resistance, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
...puts on sunglasses, obscuring her eyes. Maggie smiles at Dee, or perhaps at her sunglasses. Mama notes that it is a “real smile,” not a nervous or fearful one. (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... (full context)