Walker, contrasting the reality of one true culture to that of the stereotyped culture Mama’s daughter Dee has begun to live, develops her characterization by revealing the different parts of each character slowly, so the contrast grows more with each new piece of knowledge. Mama and Maggie both accept their culture, but they see that it isn’t just what stories tell, and know that it is more about how they live every day. They work hard and take joy in simple things such as each other and sitting in their yard. Dee, meanwhile, is trying to live out a stereotype of an African woman. She wears dresses in bright colors, and lots of dangling jewelry. As the story begins, little is known about Dee, Maggie, or Mama. Mama slowly introduces herself as a hard working woman. Later, Maggie’s character is slowly revealed as a shy worker. Dee seems questionable at first, but soon becomes a character that is disliked. By revealing her character’s personalities so slowly, Walker’s view of a true views a stereotyped culture was formed.
In the beginning of Walker’s story, little is known of Mama and Maggie. Slowly Walker develops their characters. She has Mama reveal how hard of a worker she is. Mama sums up her personality in one monologue. She says she is a “large, big-boned woman with rough man-working hands.” (91) Mama’s character is one that is clearly a hard worker, who has probably done hard labor her whole life. She is very simple in her ways also, saying “Who ever knew a Johnson with a quick tongue?” (91) Her character was developed quickly. Walker did this intentionally to show the genuineness of Mama’s character. Maggie on the other hand, was developed throughout the story more slowly. In the beginning, she was painfully shy. Mama said how “Maggie will be nervous until after her sister goes…” (91) This development of her character is used to show the conflict between the sisters, which is most visible in the beginning of the story. Mama said “I used to think [Dee] hated Maggie too.” (92) Here, there is a development of Dee’s character. It is thrown out casually, almost as if the reader should pass by it without much thought. Yet, in the next breath Mama took back what she said about Dee hating Maggie, saying that it was only before they raised the money for Dee to go to school that she ever thought Dee hated Maggie. Walker develops a indecisive view of Dee. She does this to puzzle the reader in a way, because she wants the reader to be unsure of Dee’s character. She seems quite different from Maggie and Mama, yet Mama seems to be quite taken by her. In the beginning, Walker keeps Maggie and Dee’s characters muddy, making it unclear where they stand and who they are. Mama, on the other hand, has been laid out very neatly. By knowing who Mama is and where she stands, the reader can understand the conflict that follows, and they can understand why she acts the way she does. Walker developed her so well for this reason. On the other hand, she left the characters of Dee and Maggie underdeveloped so that she could add intensity later on.
When Dee arrives in Mama’s home, she comes like tornado. Her true character is developed during this part of the story. Maggie and Mama both stay very similar to the beginning of the story with Mama just wanting to make Dee happy and proud, while Maggie stays off to the side. Dee comes driving up in a car, and gets out wearing a “dress so loud it hurts [Mama’s] eyes,” (93) along with earrings that hang to her shoulders, and bracelets that jingle. Her character, which was before only known as a girl who liked to dress with style, has now been shown as a woman who is dressing in stereotypical African clothing, but more over the top. Walker took Dee from a girl with her own style, and almost instantly developed her into this woman who was shouting in Swahili, and running through the house taking Mama’s possessions. This development was used to show the true nature of Dee, and how her wants were all spur of the moment, another trend. Her excitement over everything handmade was seen as fake, as she even said herself “‘I never knew how lovely these benches are.’”(95) She had paid no attention to them before, but was suddenly intent on everything old and handmade. This development was made by showing how eager she was over everything, yet how she knew nothing of where it truly came from. It was Maggie who filled in all the details. Maggie didn’t flaunt her heritage, yet she knew where things came from, and why they were made. Mama stays standoffish, not wanting to displease Dee. At first, she gave her what she wanted, whatever it was. Dee asked for the butter churn, even though it was clearly being used, “the milk in it clabber…”(95) Mama, still wanting to please her daughter, agreed to give it to her. Walker developed Dee during this part of the story, while leaving the others in a state of sameness so she could show the difference in the family, as the rift between Mama and Dee slowly began to form.
Towards the end of the book, Walker develops each of the characters drastically. Dee loses her façade of a calm and happy woman, and becomes angry when Mama finally stands up to her. The conversation that took place with Dee and Mama over the quilts was where the development really took place. Walker gives Mama firmness to her tone, while at the same time; she keeps some of her love for Dee. She is still clearly simple, and kind, yet knows what she wants, saying “‘Why don’t you take one or two of the [other quilts.]… These old things were just done by me and Big Dee from some tops your grandma pieced before she died.’”(96) Dee quickly breaks down, yelling about how she doesn’t want just any old quilt, but instead prefers the ones that were handmade. Maggie pops out, saying that Dee can have the quilts, which shows that her development has yet to take place. Yet Mama becomes insistent, sticking up for Maggie for the first time. Walker saved this relationship between Mama and Maggie for the very last part of the story, making the contrast between her and Dee sharper. Dee, who can’t accept her family because of her belief that they don’t accept or understand their heritage, was turned down by the mother who had never told her no. Maggie, who was inspired by her Mama sticking up for her, was finally developed into a less frightened being. When Dee left “Maggie smiled… But a real smile, not scared.”(97) She was finally able to break out of her shell. The stereotype Dee was living was pushed away by Mama and Maggie, and they were able to hold onto the true meaning of their heritage.
Walker slowly developed each character in a way that would make the conflict between each character grow with every new piece of knowledge. Maggie, rejected before, was finally able to see that her mother loved her, while Dee came parading in with her outlandish ideas about her culture, and was sent right back out the door in the same fashion. Though in the beginning, little was known about the characters, by the end, Walker gave enough information so that the reader can understand the relationship between them all a little better.