Dee is one of the people W.E.B. Du Bois refers to in The Souls of Our Striving, who struggle with the apparent incompatibility of their family heritage, and the Black heritage that is filtered through the context of American life. In contrast, Maggie, who still lives in the family home, lives her culture every day, shown simply by the fact that she will use those quilts every day, and by the fact that she realizes the quilts themselves are less important than the family memories that they represent. In Everyday Use Walker uses characterization and symbolism to show the reader that culture is something that people live, and that culture as a learned institution does not provide one with full understanding.
Complex and well-developed characterization forms a significant part of understanding the way culture is portrayed in the story. We are first introduced to Mama, whose first name we never learn - she simply identifies herself as "a Johnson". (Walker 518)Mama lacks education and quick wits, but she "can work outside all day" (Walker 518) and "kill and clean a hog as mercilessly as a man". (Walker 518) Despite seeming proud of her physical prowess, Mama shows dissatisfaction with herself when she begins to think of Dee, remembering that while Dee "would always look anyone in the eye", (Walker 518) Mama herself is unable to. When we first see Maggie, she is "almost hidden by the door". (Walker 518) Maggie's character remains hidden to the reader for most of the story - it is only towards the end, and in contrast with Dee, that we are shown her depth of character. As the story unfolds, we see that Maggie and Mama are similar in how they identify with family and memories, and in showing these similarities we see that Maggie herself is part of the family and the cultural heritage that goes with it in a way that Dee is not. Dee herself is seemingly a shallow, arrogant woman, and arrogant she may be, but her character is complex. She is struggling to create an identity for herself, and rejecting her family and its heritage has made it that much harder. She lacks "the sole oasis of simple faith and reverence" (Du Bois 567) that family provides to Maggie and Mama, and as a result she grasps at objects and photographs to provide evidence of her cultural heritage to herself and others.
The characters of Maggie and Dee are best understood when contrasted with each other. Dee is bright, beautiful, outgoing, and smart, and Maggie is her opposite in every way. Dee glides when she walks, while Maggie walks "chin on chest, eyes on ground, feet in shuffle" (Walker 518) as though she is afraid of being noticed. Neither Maggie nor Mama has much education, but Dee has been to school and in doing so, she has discovered America and America's interpretation of the new Black culture. Dee discovers "a world which yields h[er] no true self-consciousness, but only lets h[er] see h[er]self though the revelation of the other world" (Du Bois 564). Dee's sense of self in relation to her family is overshadowed by how she begins to see herself in the "other" world. Maggie, on the other hand, has never left her world of family and home, and has no need or desire to reinterpret herself.
Dee's attitude towards her culture is an