In “Everyday Use” Alice Walker reveals a conflict between a mother, Mrs. Johnson, and her two daughters. The author also shows a unique heritage of African-Americans. The central theme of the story is the way in which family members of the same African American family honor their heritage. The story is narrated by Mrs. Johnson who describes herself as “a large, big-boned woman with rough, man-working hands” (Walker 90). Although she is satisfied with her appearance, she still wishes that she were smaller: “I am the way my daughter would want me to be: a hundred pounds lighter, my skin like an uncooked pancake” (Walker 90).
She is the protagonist and is in conflict with her older daughter Dee. Mrs. Johnson also knows and loves each one of her daughters equally. Dee is “lighter than Maggie is, with nicer hair and fuller figure” (Walker 90). She changes her name from Dee to “Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo”, thinking it makes her more intelligible about her heritage. But to her mother, the name “Dee” is symbolic of family unity. Maggie is opposite of Dee. According to Mrs. Johnson, she is not an attractive girl:
Have you ever seen a lame animal, perhaps a dog run over by some careless person rich enough to own a car, sidle up to someone who is ignorant enough to be kind to him? That is the way my Maggie walks. She has been like this, chin on chest, eyes on ground, feet in shuffle, ever since the fire that burned the other house to ground. (Walker 90) Dee and Maggie have two different ways of viewing their heritage. Dee believes they should preserve family heirlooms, the quilts, by placing them on display. To Dee, artifacts such as the benches or the quilts are strictly art objects.
It never occurs to her that her family made these things because they could not afford to buy them. Dee believes she has more sophisticated perception of her culture than Maggie. Maggie represents the old and traditional African-American heritage. She knows more about her heritage than Dee. She also appreciates the hard work and triumphs her family has gone through. True heritage lies within the hearts of everyday love and respect for the past. Because selfishness and superficiality motivate Dee’s determination about heritage, Mrs. Johnson believes Maggie deserves the quilts and will respect them more.