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

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A good thesis statement will make some kind of arguable claim that can be defended with evidence from the text (i.e. quotations) as well as offer some idea of how that claim will be argued. You might choose to draw some conclusion from the fact that the only dynamic character,...

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A good thesis statement will make some kind of arguable claim that can be defended with evidence from the text (i.e. quotations) as well as offer some idea of how that claim will be argued. You might choose to draw some conclusion from the fact that the only dynamic character, one who changes fundamentally in the text, affects the story's meaning. Dee does not change during the course of events presented by the text; when she arrives home, her idea of heritage is that it is something to be preserved and not something to be honored by continuing to live it, and she leaves with this same idea.

When we meet Maggie, she is quiet and reserved, and she finishes the story that way as well. Her mother, however, has learned to see Maggie in a new light, to value her and her care and concern for their family's heritage in contrast to Dee's failure to learn the stories about the artifacts she so covets. Mrs. Johnson's change, from trying to please the demanding and destructive Dee to learning to value the loyal and humble Maggie, seems to show that Maggie's idea of heritage is more correct than Dee's, especially because Mrs. Johnson's realization seems to be a sort of divine revelation: she says that "something hit [her] in the top of [her] head and ran down to the soles of [her] feet. Just like when [she's] in church and the spirit of God touches [her] and [she] get[s] happy and shout[s]."

Thus, you could argue that Mrs. Johnson's dynamic character, and the most significant way in which she changes, provides evidence that Walker champions Maggie's understanding of heritage rather than Dee's.

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One effective way to approach a theme is to consider how the choices of the author drive the tone or theme of the overall work.

In "Everyday Use," one of the key characteristics that establishes conflict is the striking differences in characterization between Dee and Maggie. Although sisters, they have grown into quite different women. Their mother realizes the way Dee tosses away certain parts of her heritage in favor of others and the way Maggie seems to live in her sister's shadow.

When she has to decide which daughter will inherit the quilts, she chooses Maggie, the daughter whom Dee fears will put the quilts to everyday use instead of hanging them for display.

A great thesis could examine how this choice impacts the overall theme of the work. It might look something like this:

Mama's choice to save her family's quilts for Maggie shows that appreciating one's heritage means embracing it in everyday life, not merely showcasing the distant past for display.

The paper could then examine Mama's choice in light of the characterization of each of her daughters.

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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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