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Everyday Use Symbolism

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The Symbolism of Quilts

Designs used in quilts are not necessarily symmetrically organized; rather the art of quilting reflects an aesthetic understanding by the makers of what the quilt represents for them in their everyday experience. (Barkley-Brown, 1990). The shape of a quilt results from the meaning that the individual quilters give to the pieces that compose it. This art form is known as gumbo ya ya in Creole which means everybody talking at once. (Barkley-Brown, 1990).

Alice Walker’s usage of quilts in her short story Everyday Use reflects the importance and significance of a quilt in African-American history. A quilt embodies heritage and personal stories and events; a quilt is similar to a person’s own journey in that each scrap stitched into a quilt represents “a person’s world view [which] is made up of events, circumstances and influences that shape how [she] see[s] and respond[s] to the world.” (Eshbaugh, 2008, August 21). Narrated by the mother of the two main characters, the symbolism of the hand-stitched quilts in Everyday Use represents the conflicts between two sisters who each experience the world and their heritage differently.

The story begins with Dee, the eldest daughter, first homecoming since leaving for college. Walker describes Dee as a woman who no one ever told “no.” Dee is well-educated, wears bright colors that accentuates her full-figured body and exudes confidence. However, Dee will never be satisfied in life, and she is ashamed of her family and upbringing. As the story progresses, Dee’s reason for returning home becomes clearly apparent in that her only reason in returning is to take the items, especially the hand-stitched quilts, that are meaningful to her from her previous life in the house so that she can display the items in her own home. Dee’s lack of respect and interest in the lives and stories...

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