Alice Walker's short story, "Everyday Use," is a story that revolves around the themes of womanhood, family, sibling rivalry, race, and heritage. Walker manages to bring all of these issues together in one object, which becomes the central symbol of the story – the quilt. As the story progresses, the quilt comes to represent all of the main ideas expressed in the story. The quilts are made by women, passed down through the family, made up of scraps of clothing that tell stories of the struggles of past generations, and become the bone of contention between two sisters. To the beautiful, educated, modern sister, the quilts represent heritage as an artistic or cultural idea, something to be preserved and appreciated like a relic from the past. Yet, to the awkward, scarred sister who lives on the farm, the quilts are a direct link to the women who made them, and who taught her to quilt in turn. It is up to the narrator and protagonist, the girls' mother, to decide which daughter she will side with: who is right about the meaning of the quilts? .
Walker starts out by characterizing the sisters, Dee and Maggie, as complete opposites. Nearly all their descriptions are given as comparisons: "Dee is lighter than Maggie, with nicer hair and a fuller figure. Dee "used to read to us without pity; forcing words, lies, other folks' habits, whole lives upon us two, sitting trapped and ignorant underneath her voice," whereas when Maggie reads aloud, "she stumbles along good-naturedly but can't see well. She knows she is not bright. Patricia Briggs writes, "Identity was partly heritage, partly upbringing, but mostly the choices you make in life," society might make you feel miserable because you look different but you have to make the difference by choosing to live a positive lifestyle. Like good looks and money, quickness passed her by. Dee arrives for her family visit in "a dress so loud it hurts my eyes, earrings too, gold and hanging down to her shoulders.