Mrs. Johnson, or Mama, the African American woman in Everyday Use, is the story’s narrator. The story revolves around Mama and her two daughters, Dee and Maggie, as well as how differently she relates to each daughter. The difference in her relationship with her daughters results from conflicting perspectives about the family’s heritage, which depicts Mama as an observant and firm individual.

Overall, Mama is a dynamic individual whose character is important to the story’s unfolding, particularly in forging and developing the traits of other characters while showing that things people value shape their identity and behavior.


Walker develops Mama’s dynamic character through how she changes and transforms as the story unfolds. Initially, Mama gives in to Dee’s demands and allows her to take some of the cultural artifacts that have been in the family for generations because she (Dee) considers them as nice antiques for her house. Once Dee reveals her intended artistic uses for the churn and dasher, Mama does not oppose as she notices Dee’s zeal in collecting and displaying the items as artifacts to affirm her newly-found Afrocentric lifestyle.

However, Mama realizes the value the family heirloom, particularly the quilts, have in their everyday use as a heritage that has been passed through generations, including to her willing daughter Maggie. Consequently, a transformation occurs as Mama and Dee argue about the ownership of the quilts, where Mama realizes Dee’s devaluing and oppressive nature. Mama states, “I…snatched the quilts out of Miss Wangero’s hands and dumped them into Maggie’s lap (Walker 321). In taking back the quilts, Mama defies Dee and displays her dynamic character, giving her voice and worth to Maggie and herself.

Mama is also depicted as a firm character who remains resolute despite Dee’s intimidation and persuasion. Mama has always intended that the quilts go to Maggie as she argues that she (Maggie) knows the family history behind every quilt Mama and Aunt Dee sewed. Moreover, Mama also knows that Maggie is more likely to put them to better use and would not mind even if they become tattered because she has acquired the quilting skill.

Conversely, Dee believes that the quilts are better off with her because they should be preserved as artifacts with priceless value. Dee tries to convince Mama that “Maggie can’t appreciate these quilts!” And that “She’d probably be backward enough to put them to everyday use” (Walker 320). Dee’s superficial value and intimidation do not move Mama, who still maintains that Maggie should keep the quilts. Mama’s firm resolve allows Walker to depict Maggie’s character as Meek and Dee as self-centered.

Furthermore, Walker presents Mama as observant in the differences she details in her daughters’ behavior. Mama describes Dee in her recollection of the fire incident with memories of Dee narrated between paragraphs 4 and 6, where she is presented as a person with a contrasting personality with the family. While Mama and Maggie are content with their life, Mama notices Dee’s disdain for their impoverished status and even suspects that Dee enjoyed seeing the first house burned down.

According to Mama, Dee hated the house and even wanted to ask her, “Why don’t you do a dance around the ashes?” (Walker 316). Overall, Mama notices Dee’s detachment from her family, the differences in her daughters’ characters, and Dee’s cold treatment towards them, which not only depicts her as observant but also used to highlight Dee’s and Maggie’s disparate traits.

Conclusively, Mama is an observant and firm individual whose character is utilized in developing and emphasizing the differences in her daughters’ characters. In addition, Walker uses Mama’s dynamic character to show that the value people place on material things, especially the cultural artifacts in this story, shapes their traits and identity. As a firm and observant character, Mama depicts Dee as a self-centered individual, while Maggie is presented as a meek character who feels inferior and needs her mother to save her from her sister’s intimidation.

Work Cited

Walker, Alice. Everyday use. Rutgers University Press, 1994.

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William Anderson (Schoolworkhelper Editorial Team)
William completed his Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts in 2013. He current serves as a lecturer, tutor and freelance writer. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, walking his dog and parasailing. Article last reviewed: 2022 | St. Rosemary Institution © 2010-2024 | Creative Commons 4.0

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