The way in which a parent raises their child has a direct impact on the way the child perceives itself as well as how siblings perceive each other. In addition, the social atmosphere surrounding the child and any major crisis’s that happen in their life, contribute to this perception.
In the story “Everyday Use” by Alice Walker, the daughters, “Dee” and “Maggie” are affected by all three criteria. The mother of these girls makes a life changing action due to the perception that the daughters have of themselves and each other. She realizes that how she handles the particular situation of the “quilt” will directly effect the confidence of her youngest daughter.
The past crisis that affected the two daughters was a fire that burned down their house. This crisis not only has a direct effect on Maggie’s perception of herself, but also reveals Dee’s personality to her mother. The mother remembers how she carried Maggie out of the burning flames and how pitiful and scared her daughter looked. Dee, on the other hand, was standing underneath a tree watching contently as the house went up in flames. The house was embarrassing to Dee and as her mother looked at her, she thought that Dee would start dancing on the ashes.
The fire left burn scars on Maggie. Ever since than, her lack of confidence deteriorated drastically which shows immensely in her physical actions. The mother refers to this behaviour a number of times when describing Maggie to the reader. She bluntly states that because of the fire, Maggie is “homely and ashamed of her burn scars down her arms and legs” and she walks like a “lame animal, chin on chest, eyes on ground, feet in shuffle”. When comparing physical attributes, Dee is far prettier than Maggie is. Her skin is light compared to Maggie’s, she has nicer hair and a fuller figure. It is know that a woman who feels physically appealing is more confident in herself than those that are not. Maggie, with burn scars, feels inferior to her sister. Dee is over confident and has no shame.
In her social life, Dee has what seems to be a lot of friends. It seems like a catty group that cares for how one looks, dresses and how they appear to everyone else. To add to Dee’s ego, her friends worship her not only because of her physical appearance but because she reads to them. She has many boyfriends and got serious with one in particular who abandoned her for a city girl. During the time she dated him she ignored her family. The fact that her boyfriend left her for a city girl had a direct effect on her ego. Instead of trying to become a smart city girl she went a different route. This is when she turned back to her routes. As for Maggie, her social life consists of the farm and direct family. It would be hard for her to make friends because at the young age, kids are ignorant. They would tease her and make her feel more insecure. This is why she stays home.
Dee is well educated and realized that if she wanted to have a life away from the farm that she would need a good education. Her mother is hopeful of her becoming something with her life and even raised money with the church to send her away to school. Maggie on the other hand is not too bright. It never states the education that she is acquiring but she does know how to read. The problem is that she can’t see well. Her mother has already arranged a marriage for her so that she will be taken care of knowing that she does not have the same potential as her sister, Dee.
The setting of the story is during the 1960’s. There was still a strong impact on racial discrimination. The mother states that she would never look a white man in the eye, which implies she feels inferior to the “white man”. She is big, uneducated, and manly and is a single mother. Her feelings about herself are greatly projected in how she deals with her daughters. She feels that Dee is beautiful and educated, which means that Dee has potential to become a “somebody”. She lets Dee do what she wants when she wants and buys her new clothes so that Dee will be happy. The mother feels that Maggie is not pretty and not smart and that is why she arranged the marriage for Maggie. She doesn’t think that Maggie will find somebody on her own.
The mother’s in turn caused Dee to be a user, spoiled, confident and “Know it all”. Dee insisted on reading to her mother and Dee but would stop in time for them to not learn enough treating them like dimwits. She was always trying to tell them things they didn’t know to make her self feel even more superior which made Maggie feel inferior. She was embarrassed about their house and when she left for school she promised to visit but not with her friends. When she did come home she couldn’t stop taking pictures of the house. This shows the way she shifts her attitudes because of social pressures.
Maggie always felt in the shadows and in awe of her sister. She was scared of her sister because the way Dee controlled her mother. By always succumbing to Dee, Maggie felt that Dee was her superior and it showed when she was nervous about the arrival of her sister. Maggie believed that her sister “held life in the palm of her hand” and she was always getting the short end of the stick. She never complained because she believed that this is how God worked. Dee wasn’t nice to Maggie and I believe would refer to Maggie as being stupid a great deal. She stated at one point during the visit that Maggie’s brain is like and elephants The mother never seemed to interfere or stick up for Maggie.
All in all, this led up to the big even with the “quilt“. Dee wanted the quilt and her mother promised it to Maggie. Dee already claimed it for her own and even backed away when her mother tried to take it from her. Maggie at first was upset and slammed the kitchen door but than afterwards, knowing her fate, told her mother that Dee could have the quilt. Her mother says that she felt like something knocked her on the head I think kind of like knocking sense into her. The sense was that she finally realized that how she treated her daughters greatly affected their confidence. Dee’s confidence was already so great that if her mother said “No” it wouldn’t affect her. On the other hand, if the mother said “Yes” to Dee it would have just went along with all of Maggie’s perceptions of her sister, never hearing the word “No”, and her confidence would never grow. Because the mother said yes, Maggie grew instant confidence, was not scared of her sister anymore and actually gave a real smile to Dee when she left.
I believe the mother was so busy in life, being a single mom trying to provide for her daughters, that she didn’t realize the effect she was having on them. Dee took advantage of it and Maggie accepted everything the way it was. The quilt for Dee was an object of social status that she could show her friends how concerned she was about her routes. As for Maggie, the quilt was a sentimental object. Dee still did not change from the experience but a whole new world opened up for Maggie and the mother as well. Dee is already an independent young woman and doesn’t need her mother’s approval or affection anymore. Maggie is still young and insecure. Now that her mother is aware of how her behaviour affects Maggie it will in turn change the way Maggie feels about herself.
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