Fashion Versus Function Essay
Is something worth having, even if it is just to look at? Would it not be better to actually put the object to actual use? In “Everyday Use”, by Alice Walker, this is the very conflict presented by sisters Dee and Maggie. Dee wishes to have her mother’s churn top and quilts so she may use them as decoration and as keepsakes, whereas Maggie wishes to have the quilts not only as a way to remember her grandmother, but also for their utilitarian purpose, in other words, to put them to ‘everyday use’. Therein lies the significance of the title, these items that are fought over are valued by Mama and Maggie for their ‘Everyday Use’.
Dee, having an awakened desire to learn of her cultural heritage, decides she wants some of her own family’s objects that have some historical value. Dee wants to take her mother’s churn top to use as decoration, evidenced when she says, “I can use the churn top as a centerpiece for the alcove table” (Walker 480). The significance of the churn top stems from the fact that her own uncle made it out of the wood from a tree they once had (480). Luckily for her no one seems to protest her intentions to take the churn top.
Dee also wants the quilts because their historical value comes from what they are composed of; scraps of dresses her grandmother wore fifty or more years ago as well as a small piece of her great grandfather’s civil war uniform (481). However, when she reveals her desire to take the quilts as well, Mama refuses to let her keep them and admits to be saving the quilts for Maggie. Dee seems to be immensely disappointed and even tries to make her case for why she should be the one to have the quilts, “Maggie can’t appreciate these quilts, she’d probably be backward enough to put them to everyday use” (481).
After Mama asks Dee what she would do with them, Dee’s reply is simply, “Hang them” (481). This does not sit very well with Mama, who would actually prefer the quilts to be used, “God knows I been saving ‘em for long enough with nobody using ‘em. I hope she will! ” (481). Needless to say that Dee, who is accustomed to always getting her way, isn’t very happy at this point. During this back and forth between Mama and Dee, Maggie overhears everything and decides to let Dee keep the quilts but then she also states why she would want to have the quilts, as a way of remembering her ‘Grandma Dee’, She can have them, Mama, I can ‘member Grandma Dee without the quilts” (Walker 481). Since it was originally her grandmother and her aunt who had taught her how to quilt, as evidenced by Mama’s thoughts, “It was Grandma Dee and Big Dee who taught her how to quilt herself” (481), Maggie is more connected to the quilts than Dee is. Mama knows this and ultimately, after realizing that “this was Maggie’s portion. This was the way she knew god to work” (481), Mama decides to take the quilts away from Dee and place them directly on Maggie’s lap (482).
Maggie’s only reaction was to sit there in astonishment with her mouth open (482). Finally Mama turns to Dee and, referring to the quilts, definitively tells her to, “Take one or two of the others” (482). The story’s title, ‘Everyday Use’, signifies Mama’s wishes to let Maggie keep the quilts, for after talking to Dee, and Maggie, she realizes that Maggie is the one that will actually use the quilts and not just hang them. Mama views the quilts as items designed for everyday use, not as keepsakes like Dee would rather have them. Both Mama and Maggie help serve as a stark contrast to Dee.
Mama and Maggie value the quilts for their purpose in everyday use, whereas Dee sees them as decoration, or as subjects of conversation, something to be preserved simply for their historical background. In the end, the story’s title is “Everyday Use” because that’s what most mattered to Mama, the narrator. In summary, this is Dee versus Mama and Maggie, fashion versus function. Dee wants the churn top as a centerpiece for her alcove table and the quilts so she can hang them, she wants them for their historical value and as decoration.
Maggie wants the quilts to have something to remember Grandma Dee by, and also for the usefulness the quilts will bring her, for their practical, everyday use value. In the end, Maggie gets to keep the quilts, and that leads to the significance of the title of this story. The title ‘Everyday Use’ refers to the fact that Maggie keeps the quilts precisely for the right reason; she intended to put them to everyday use, which is how Mama valued the quilts. Function trumps fashion.