The character of “Dee” in Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use” comes across as being very shallow, selfish and arrogant from the very beginning of the story. As the story progresses though, Dee does become more complex and is shown to be struggling with her own identity and heritage. Concrete details are stated about Dee that lead you to know she is beautiful, smart and confident. Dee is described as slender with a small waste. She is a light skinned black person with a nice grade of hair. She is also somewhat educated. Dee is fashion conscience, always wanting nicer things that were not affordable to her family. In the beginning of the story, Dee’s mother and sister, Maggie are preparing for Dee’s arrival for a visit. Here is where you get the first glimpse of Dee’s apparent personality. Maggie is described by her mother as being nervous until after Dee goes when Dee hasn’t even arrived yet. This leads you to believe that perhaps Maggie is intimidated by Dee and perhaps feels inferior to Dee. Dee’s mother talks about dreaming a dream about being greeted by Dee with an embrace and tears in her eyes.
In real life Dee’s mother and sister don’t seem to feel as though they quite measure up to what Dee expects or wants them to be. Dee’s mother never had much of an education but the church and Dee’s mom raised enough money to send Dee off to school. Maggie is mentioned as having poor sight and not being very bright. Dee on the other hand is smart. Dee would come home and read to them and attempt to dump a lot of knowledge on them that they didn’t necessarily need to know and would likely never use. This is just one of the first examples of Dee’s s selfishness. When Dee arrives home, she has brought a man with her. She introduces him to her family and announces she has changed her name to a Swahili name, claiming she could not stand being named after people who had oppressed her. She had been named Dee for her aunt and grandmother. Once home, Dee attempts to reconnect with her family and her heritage. She runs around taking Polaroid pictures of the family in front of the house.
She comments on a an old churn top an uncle had carved for the family when Dee was a child. Dee talks about the benches that the family sits on that her father had made and how you could feel the rump prints in the seats. She sighs and puts her hand over the butter dish that belonged to Grandma Dee; one of those namesakes that oppressed her. Dee announces that she wants the churn top Uncle Bobby had whittled as well as the dasher and some beautiful old quilts that her family had made. Dee thinks they symbolize an important part of her heritage. These same things were not important to her as a child but the value of them now is what she’s really after. Mother tells her those quilts were for Maggie. Dee is selfish and rudely announces that Maggie couldn’t appreciate the quilts claiming Maggie would use them instead of hanging them. Dee claims that should be hung and appreciated in that way.
To her, they are priceless in a materialistic way. This shows Dee’s confusion of the true meaning of heritage and her own selfishness again. Dee’s mother had once offered one of those same quilts to Dee when Dee went to college. Dee claimed them to be old fashioned and out of style. Maggie tells her mother that Dee can have the quilts, but Mother stays firm and does not give Dee the quilts. Dee tells her mother she doesn’t understand her heritage when it’s quite obvious that it is Dee who does not understand her true heritage. Poor Dee leaves her family visit demonstrating her selfish behavior and lack of understanding of the meaning of heritage.