Marilyn Waniek’s “The Century Quilt” employs symbolism to relay a young girl’s emotional attachment of a grandmothers’ blanket to that of her own quilt. Waniek’s depiction of the quilt not only serves as a reminder of how passionate the young girl felt about her grandmother’s blanket, but also how she envisioned her quilt to share similar properties that embodied her grandmother’s blanket. In lieu of the literal concept of using the quilt to keep her warm, the speaker suggests that he quilt will tie-in with her grandmother’s blanket in that the memories of her childhood would be preserved. This relationship allows the reader to interpret the symbolic importance of the quilt to that of the girl’s personal desires. It can also be inferred that the quilt also served as a reference to the speaker’s heritage.
When describing her quilt, the speaker describes a pattern of squares with the colors of white, brown, and “the yellowbrown of Mama’s cheeks” (Line 17). These repeating patterns of squares most likely pay homage to the speaker’s mixed heritage, with her family being of both Native American and Caucasian descent. The speaker’s heritage is supported by her visions of her grandmother’s childhood back in Kentucky “among her yellow sisters; their grandfather’s white family” (Lines 25-26). While one could argue that the speaker is simply reciting the life of her grandmother, it can also be said that the speaker is optimistic about her own future, and that she herself would relive her memories whilst under the quilt, such as meeting her unconceived son. The speaker’s desire to share the same emotional response to her quilt as her grandmother to her blanket signifies the priority Waniek placed symbolism.