Fashion Versus Function

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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...
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