Sally Fitzgibbons Foundation

Beginning the Academic Essay

“Everyday Use” is a story about two sisters who are as different as the sun and moon. Maggie is the soft spoken younger sister who was burned horrifically in a house fire as a child; while Dee is the well educated older child who is an entitled brat. The story starts with Mama in the front yard awaiting the arrival of Dee who is visiting for unknown reasons. Upon arriving, Dee explains how she is changing her name and introduces a muslim man with whom Mama is unsure if Dee is married to. Maggie is frightened and jumps when the man tries to shake her hand due to the trauma from her scars. Dee and Maggie, although sisters, share a relationship and kinship more attuned to strangers.
Dee and Maggie, despite being sisters have very few things in common. In fact, being sisters seems to be one of the only similarities the two have. In Everyday Use, the reader finds out that the sister’s were raised in the same single parent household by their mother. The only mention of their father comes when they are talking about the benches they are sitting at while eating dinner. Mama thinks that Dee was happy that they “…still used the benches her daddy made for the table…” Both sisters also want to keep the hand stitched quilts that were made by their mother and aunt, Big Dee.
Maggie, the younger sister, was taught at a young age how to quilt her own blankets. When Dee insists that Maggie will put them to use and they will be destroyed in five years time, Mama says that is the way it should be and Maggie can make more if needed. Maggie is not considered pretty in any conventional sense. Mama explains how she was burned in a house fire twelve years ago. When describing her appearance, Mama says she has “… burn scars down her arms and legs…”. Maggie’s appearance is the cause for her timid nature. In this story, Maggie avoids physical contact of any kind, as shown when she jumps away from Dee’s boyfriend when he tries to shake her hand. She is also always portrayed as halfway hiding behind doors or walls, and when Dee tries to take the quilts Maggie reluctantly tells Mama she can have them as to avoid a confrontation.
Dee, who has changed her name to Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo to get closer to her African roots, claims she wants the quilts so she can preserve her heritage. In reality, Dee cares nothing about preserving her heritage. Dee seems to be using her heritage to gain attention and feed her entitled ego. When asked what she will do with the quilts by Mama, Dee replies that she will hang them as a display piece. Dee, in terms of looks, is the polar opposite of her younger sister. Mama describes her as “…lighter than Maggie, with nicer hair and a fuller figure.” When she arrives Dee is wearing a brightly colored yellow and orange floor length dress that Mama says is too long for the weather and is bright like the sun.
Maggie and Dee, while raised in the same house, under the same circumstances, and by the same woman turn out to be drastically different from one another. Maggie is a shy young girl, who because of her outward appearances tends to live her life in the shadows. Her sister Dee on the other hand, commands attention with everything she does. The way she dresses in bright colors, her name change, and even her wanting to display the quilts are all a way for her to gain more attention for herself.

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