Alice Walker’s Everyday Use, a short story written in the late 1960s, is, perhaps, a story of cultural discrepancies in the American society of the 50s and 60s caused by racial issues. The story shows how one’s culture and heritage could be seen from different points of view. This essay is focused on the cultural conflict between two sisters – Maggie and Dee – whose characters are neatly contrasted in the story by its author.
In Walker’s “Everyday Use” Making Literature Matter: An Anthology for Readers and Writers Maggie is described as a physically inferior and mentally slow girl using certain literal techniques. Maggie’s physical inferiority is depicted in the very beginning of the story when it is told that Maggie had (383). Moreover, such words as and generate in readers’ minds an image of an injured little girl appealing for sympathy. Maggie’s character in the story is a reflection of the African Americans mindful of their physical and mental injuries who do not though forget the real meaning of words “culture” and “heritage”.
Dee, Maggie’s sister is described as a girl who is (384). Dee, in contrary, is a character which represents the part of the African Americans – numerous in the late 1960s – who considered themselves the new generation of black people in America. They followed such movements as the Black Power Movement and assumed their heritage be of historical value at best.
Maggie is defined by Alice Walker as a tragic character retarded both physically and mentally, though having lofty ideals. At the same time, Dee is depicted through the story as a person favored with everything, though having poor spirit.
Girls’ mother says about Maggie: (384). Mama also denotes that Maggie always resembles a weak animal that had been run over - though not to death – by a car. Dee’s despotic and cold behavior compared with Maggie’s fearful and slow attitude seems even more contrasting. Just as Maggie and Dee, Walker’s black contemporaries were divided into two parts representing different views and opinions about the problem of heritage.
From mama’s words we learn that Dee was always disposed towards precious things. This attitude has cultivated taste for material values. When the family house was burnt to ashes, Dee has experienced the internal tragedy of material kind, (385)
Dee’s evaluation of her heritage is rather material as opposed to that of her ancestors’ beliefs. In the social sense, such beliefs appeared to be old-fashioned towards those of the new generation of the African Americans who sought for material wealth.
(386) Dee declares informing Maggie and Mama she has changed the name. Nevertheless, Dee later learns that she was named after her aunt who, in turn, was named after her grandmother.
The evidence of heritage and culture contradictions becomes even clearer as quilt appear in the story.
Dee considers the quilts priceless and decides to put them on the wall. However, everybody remembers Dee’s proposal about passing the quilts to local university as she considered them to be old-fashioned. Dee’s dilemma in this story might be projected into external social plane. Moreover, it might be considered that there was a dilemma in global sense for those who defined themselves as the “new culture”. (387) Dee says after it was decided to give the quilts to Maggie.
Dee, however, believed her heritage to be of material matter solely. On the contrary, Maggie was aware of great knowledge of her great culture. Therefore, we have two cultures contemporary to Alice Walker who tried to notice the differences between both of them by putting them into two characters of her short story.
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Below you will find three outstanding thesis statements / paper topics for “Everyday Use" by Alice Walker that can be used as essay starters. All five incorporate at least one of the themes found in the text and are broad enough so that it will be easy to find textual support, yet narrow enough to provide a focused clear thesis statement. These thesis statements offer a summary of different elements that could be important in an essay but you are free to add your own analysis and understanding of the plot or themes to them. Using the essay topics below in conjunction with the list of important quotes at the bottom of the page, you should have no trouble connecting with the text and writing an excellent paper.
Click Here for a Free, Detailed Plot Summary of “Everyday Use” from SuperSummary
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #1: The Significance of the Title of Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use"The title of Everyday Use by Alice Walker carries several meanings apart from being a convenient beginning. In fact, many of the those most important themes of the story are highlighted by the issue of how things are used on an everyday basis. For example, the most obvious issues surrounding the everyday use of items and the disagreements around them is that of the quilts. For Dee / Wangero the quilts should not be actually used for warmth, but their everyday use is wrapped up in presenting a cultural or historical ideal—it is something to show off. The issue of everyday use also extends to other matters, such as the usefulness of reading, considering race and class, among others. For this essay, spend one paragraph on different examples of the duality of usefulness. Look at how Dee / Wangero thinks something should be used versus how her mother and sister might. For your conclusion, reflect on why there might be different ideas on usefulness.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #2: Race and Rural Versus Urban
The issue of race is viewed and discussed differently in country versus urban settings and this issue is one of the main themes throughout “Everyday Use" by Alice Walker.The rural setting that Dee’s mother is immersed in is based on the idea of hard work. Her mother and Maggie do not have the time, education, or motivation to think deeply about race, racism, or equality and her mother openly admits that she would not even be able to look a white man in the face. Dee / Wangero, on the other hand, although she is originally from the country, eventually moves away and is exposed to ideas about racial equality. This, combined with her urban education, makes her view matters of race differently and causes the inherent conflict between her and her family’s ideals. For this essay, explore the ways the country and city settings are directly opposed to one another through characters and their understanding of race. A great place to start would be by considering Dee’s change of her name to Wangero and what it means for her versus what it means (or doesn’t) to her family.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #3: The Burned-Down House
Critics have often questioned whether or not Dee / Wangero burned down the house—an event that eventually led to her sister being scarred for life. Although her mother does not come out and directly say it, she makes sure to mention how much Dee hated the house and furthermore, how she stood back coldly and watched it burn. Furthermore, there are numerous examples of how selfish and single-minded Dee / Wangero is. By performing a character analysis or character sketch, form an argumentative essay that argues that she did or did not burn the house down. Make sure to use her character traits to back up the claim. If you need outside sources, there are plenty available in academic databases that will argue either way.
** For more information on another work by Alice Walker, visit the PaperStarter entry for “The Color Purple“
This list of important quotations from “Everyday Use" by Alice Walker will help you work with the essay topics and thesis statements above by allowing you to support your claims. All of the important quotes listed here correspond, at least in some way, to the paper topics above and by themselves can give you great ideas for an essay by offering quotes about other themes, symbols, imagery, and motifs than those already mentioned. All quotes contain page numbers as well. Look at the bottom of the page to identify which edition of the text they are referring to.
Click Here for a Free, Detailed Plot Summary of “Everyday Use” from SuperSummary
“Then we were on stage and Dee is embracing me with tears in her eyes. She pins on my dress a large orchid, even though she told me once that she thinks orchids are tacky flowers" (27).
“I am the way my daughter would want me to be; a hundred pounds lighter, my skin like an uncooked barley pancake. My hair glistens in the hot bright lights. Johnny Carson has much to do to keep up with my quick and witty tongue" (27).
“She 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. She washed us in a river of make-believe, burned us with a lot of knowledge we didn’t necessarily need to know. Pressed us to her with the serf’ oust way she read, to shove us away at just the moment, like dimwits, we seemed about to understand" (30).
(Dee / Wangero) “I can use the chute top as a centerpiece for the alcove table…and I’ll think of something artisitic to do with the dasher" (33).
(Dee / Wangero) “Maggie can’t appreciate these quilts… She’d probably be backward enough to put them to everyday use" (34).
All quotes from the Norton Anthology of African American Literature Volume VI