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What is a good thesis statement about "Everyday Use" by Alice Walker?

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sabrinadbradshaw | Student, College Freshman | eNotes Newbie

Posted October 15, 2011 at 1:50 PM via web

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What is a good thesis statement about "Everyday Use" by Alice Walker?

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James Kelley | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted March 7, 2010 at 1:26 AM (Answer #1)

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I like pohnpei397's reply. The daughter who returns home in Alice Walker's short story "Everyday Use," and the man she brings with her, indeed respresent a newly forged cultural identity for African Americans that is very much at odd with the conventional identities, as reflected in both the mother and the stay-at-home daughter.

A second (and related) possible thesis for this story focuses on the idea of "reader response": every reader will read the story in a slightly different way because of that reader's individual background, values, political commitments, and so on. The story does prompt us, of course, to identify more closely with some of the characters than with the others; for example, the mother is the narrator in the story, which makes most readers initially identify more closely with her than with any of the other characters. Some readers will follow these prompts while other readers -- who are sometimes called "resistant readers" -- will not.

"Everyday Use," then, can be seen as a story that will probably be read very differently by different readers. While I teach in Mississippi, for example, I am not from that state, and I have great respect for the artists and thinkers of the Black Arts Era, including Alice Walker, who sought to make breaks with the past and to challenge, among other things, white standards of beauty and ideas of history. I also believe in the value of leaving home for extended periods, growing to be a highly independent person, and returning home a changed person who is then able to sift through the past and choose what to keep and what not to keep. Thus, while my Southern, very family-centered, and very place-bound students almost invariably identify with the position of Maggie and her mother (and often share, for example, in the mother's mockery of the Africa- and Islam-inspired names that the two visitors have adopted), I find the two visitors much more interesting and inspiring. I would even go so far as to say that the author Alice Walker is much more like Dee than she is like Maggie.

In the end, for me, the point is not that one reader is right and the other is wrong. Rather, the point is that we, as different readers, can react differently to the same prompts in the story and end up with very different readings of the same text. The particular readings that we end up with, in fact, often say as much about who we are as readers as they say about the text that we have been reading.

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted March 6, 2010 at 11:27 PM (Answer #2)

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This depends a lot on what you feel you want to say about the story -- what about it touched you most or made you most interested.

To me, the most interesting thing (since I'm a history teacher) is the way that the story treats the idea of black nationalism that was in vogue in the early '70s when the story was written.

So a thesis statement for me would be something like, "In 'Everyday Use,' Alice Walker the tension between black nationalists and the many African Americans who are still living in rural southern areas."

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Doug Stuva | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted March 7, 2010 at 2:02 AM (Answer #3)

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In researching Walker's "Everyday Use," and deciding on an approach to take when you analyze the work in writing (your essay), you could begin by answering a research question.  A few to choose from might be:

  • What is the effect/result of the mother as narrator?  How would the story be different if Dee were the narrator?
  • How is the reader prepared for the specific conflict that occurs soon after Dee arrives?
  • What is the role of background and setting in the story?
  • Who is the protagonist?
  • How, specifically, is the story structured and what is the effect/result of the structure?
  • What does Walker herself say about the story, and how does this effect one's interpretation of the story?  And, should it?

Any one of the above research questions, thoroughly answered, should lead to plenty of details and evidence to form as essay.

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vangoghfan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted October 15, 2011 at 2:22 PM (Answer #2)

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One possibility might be to try to go against the grain and argue that Dee is not as unattractive a character as we usually assume.  You might try something like this:

 

In her short story "Everyday Use," Alice Walker seems to present Dee as a wholly unappealing character.  In some ways, however, Dee is not as unappealing as she seems -- partly because she resembles, in some respects, Walker herself.

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clairewait | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted October 15, 2011 at 10:37 PM (Answer #3)

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Like the above poster suggested, one topic that usually makes for an interesting thesis with any well-critiqued text is to refute popular commentary and show how you believe differently.

Another typical, but not too difficult approach to a thesis statement is to come up with a theme in the story, and write about that theme by analyzing the author's use of literary devices to portray the theme.

It might help for you to start by brainstorming some open ended questions that are broad enough to require an entire essay to answer.  Some examples include:

  1. What is the author's purpose/message in "Everyday Use" and how does she portray this message?
  2. Who is the [strongest, weakest, most content, least content, etc.] character and why?
  3. What is one theme presented in "Everyday Use" that is still applicable to today?  How?
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Lorraine Caplan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

Posted October 15, 2011 at 11:32 PM (Answer #4)

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Another thesis you might consider is that our cultures can impede us as least as much as they nurture us, a slightly broader take on the suggestion of the second response.  The values of the sister who stays home are important ones, certainly, a cherishing of tradition by continuing to live it, but if everyone were like this, would we ever grow?

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litteacher8 | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted October 16, 2011 at 2:23 AM (Answer #5)

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I have always found this a very meaningful selection.  Why not focus on the importance of heritage.  Most of us today do not think about passing things down from one generation to another, either objects or traditions. What is your perspective?

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lsumner | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

Posted October 16, 2011 at 3:43 AM (Answer #6)

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Thesis 1: In "Everyday Use," Walker suggests that heritage is an important part of life and should be shared with the next generation.

Thesis 2: In "Everyday Use," the narrator understands the importance of cultural heritage, suggesting that children should appreciate their heritage as it is passed down.

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted June 29, 2012 at 7:58 PM (Answer #8)

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Perhaps, you may wish to define "cultural heritage" as it pertains to Walker's story "Everyday Use."  Obviously, Maggie and her mother have conflicting ideas of the meaning of "heritage" with Dee in this narrative.  What, then, is Alice Walker's defintion and how does she illustrate and define this meaning?

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Michelle Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted July 1, 2012 at 7:21 PM (Answer #9)

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I tend to be partial to how "Wangero" suddenly wants to over-do her heritage and merely focus on the aesthetic and fashionable, rather than on what really matters about it. It reminds me about every person who claims Irish heritage in St. Patrick's day and literally want to be more Irish than a shamrock. However chances are that they do not even know how to locate Ireland on a map. I feel that a good thesis would then be "cultural heritage versus aesthetic heritage: the case of Wangero". This would give you ample room to point out how silly her entire argument is on wanting the quilt in the first place.

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