What is the message in Alice Walker's "Everyday Use"?

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In "Everyday Use," Alice Walker highlights the difference between two sisters who value their heritage differently. Maggie's version of heritage feels sincere and authentic, and she keeps her forebears alive by telling their stories and remembering their names. Dee has a more materialistic interest in heritage, demanding the objects that prove her humble origins and, ironically, rejecting the name that connects her to her relatives. Walker shows that one valuation of heritage is far preferable to the other.

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In "Everyday Use," Alice Walker seems to want to show the difference between someone who has a real, genuine appreciation for their heritage and someone who has a more performative and consumable version of appreciation.

Maggie Johnson, for instance, knows her family's stories: which family member made which...

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objects and when, as well as what that person's name and nickname were. Dee, or Wangero, on the other hand, does not remember, or evidently care to remember, these kinds of details. Maggie seems to love the home that she shares with her mother, and she has no desire to go far away but will marry a local boy when it's time. Dee could not wait to leave home, and her mother raised money to send her away to school. Dee was so embarrassed, at one point, by her home that she wrote to her mother, saying, "no matter where [they] 'choose' to live, she will manage to come see [them]. But she will never bring her friends."

Now, though, Dee arrives with a friend, demanding the family's artifacts and heirlooms, many of which are still put to "everyday use" by her mother and sister. Dee doesn't care about her heritage so much as she cares about having evidence of it; she plans to do "something artistic" with the dasher she requests and will hang the family quilts on the wall rather than use them. Walker shows readers how much more genuine and real Maggie's appreciation for her heritage is compared to Dee's. For Maggie, heritage is something that is still a part of her everyday life, but for Dee, heritage is something from the past, something from which to gather souvenirs so that she can prove to others just how "authentic" she is.

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What is a good conclusion for the short story "Everyday Use" by Alice Walker?

In addressing themes of heritage and culture, a conclusion could be made by showing how certain characters interpret those themes. Maggie and Mrs. Johnson appreciate their culture and heritage in a personal, intimate, and practical way. They appreciate the quilts because the family made them and because they were/are practical and useful. (Thus, Mrs. Johnson and Maggie appreciate their cultural/familial objects for the memory and their usefulness, for the personal/sentimental value and for the everyday use.) 

Dee/Wangero does note that she wants the quilts because they come from things Grandma stitched herself. So, she does have some sense of personal remembrance attributed to the quilts. However, she wants them to display in her home, to showcase her African heritage. She thinks their value is in this symbolic cultural significance whereas she thinks Maggie will just destroy them by using them every day. 

"But they're priceless!" she was saying now, furiously; for she has a temper. "Maggie would put them on the bed and in five years they'd be in rags. Less than that!" 

It is not a bad thing that Dee/Wangero wants to get in touch with her African heritage. But in doing so, she is ignoring her more immediate family heritage. She also is a bit superficial in thinking that cultural heirlooms (heritage of Africa and/or her personal family history) are to be used for show/display rather than for the purpose they were intended: everyday use. For Dee, cultural is symbolic; again not necessarily a bad thing. But for Maggie and Mrs. Johnson, culture is symbolic while also being real lived experience. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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What is the theme of "Everyday Use" by Alice Walker?

In Everyday Use, there is a conflict between how Dee views the world and objects around her (and her relationship to them), and how Mama and Maggie view the material world. Dee represents a human desire to assign cultural and artistic meaning to practical objects, particularly to items hand made by a loved one. She wishes to transform everyday objects that are used by her family, such as the butter churner and the quilts, into artistic representations of her family's life. Dee appreciates objects for their visual and cultural significance, rather than their use.

Conversely, Mama and Maggie appreciate objects for their practical application. The quilts are intended to be used to keep one warm, and while Dee covets the quilts made by her mother for their visual beauty and connection to her family, Mama appreciates the quilts for their use. Mama gives the quilts to Maggie because she knows that Maggie will use the quilts as they were intended. The theme of this short story can be understood in this tension between appreciation of practicality and appreciation of visual beauty and sentimentality.

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What is the theme of "Everyday Use" by Alice Walker?

An apparent theme in "Everyday Use" can be seen in the title of the short story. Mama sees value and beauty in the usefulness and practicality of people and objects. For example, Mama describes her own physical appearance and qualities as being useful to her life. She has strong bones and "man" hands that allow her to survive and perform her duties. She wears clothing not for show but for practical purposes as seen in her flannel nightgown that keeps her warm.

Dee, in contrast, sees beauty and value in more superficial qualities. Mama knows that Dee would rather see her "a hundred pounds lighter" and with lighter skin. When Dee arrives at Mama's house, Mama notices that Dee wears a long, brightly colored dress and is adorned in earrings and bracelets in spite of the hot weather.

Dee wishes to take two of Mama's quilts. The quilts contain scraps of material taken from clothing worn by relatives and are hand-stitched around the edges. Mama explains that she plans to give the quilts to Maggie. Dee becomes upset because she feels Maggie will not appreciate the quilts and will put them to "everyday use." While that seems shameful to Dee, Mama sees "everyday use" as beautiful. Mama stands by her decision to give the quilts to Maggie because Maggie will use the quilts as they are intended to be used. The theme of the usefulness of objects and people becomes evident in the end of the story as well when Mama states that "Maggie knows how to quilt." Mama sees beauty in Maggie where Dee does not.

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What is the theme of "Everyday Use" by Alice Walker?

One major theme of this story is that one's heritage is meant to be used and made a part of daily life, not preserved and put on a shelf or a wall.  Although mama and Maggie still regularly use their butter churn, Dee wants to take the dasher and the churn top as souvenirs of her heritage.  She doesn't intend to use them, as she says, "'I can use the churn top as a centerpiece for the alcove table, [...] and I’ll think of something artistic to do with the dasher.'"  Dee happily takes the items that her family uses to prepare their food on a daily basis because they have been handmade by other family members, and she seems to want to have something to show off.  It's the same for the quilts.  Dee says that she wants to hang them on the wall when they've been promised to Maggie, and she says that Maggie would be "backward enough" to use them every day, as if that were the wrong thing to do with them.  Mama realizes how wrong, how selfish, Dee is, and it seems that we, the readers, are meant to as well.  Dee's idea of heritage is wrong, but mama and Maggie have it right.

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Analyze "Everyday Use" by Alice Walker.

The narrator of Alice Walker's "Everyday Use" is the African American mother of two daughters, Dee and Maggie. Dee has left the family home, and Maggie, who had been badly burned when their former home burned, is still at home with her mother. There has been long standing tension in the family because Dee, in the mother's view, has always been rejecting of her family and upbringing. Her mother and her church had raised money to send Dee away to school. It is established that Dee thinks of herself as better than her family and community and has aspirations that reject their traditions and values.

As the story opens, Maggie and her mother are waiting for Dee to arrive for a visit. When she arrives, Dee makes a point of photographing her mother, sister, the house, and a cow before informing her mother that she is not longer Dee; she is "Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo!" Dee's rationale for changing her name is that her given name originates from her "oppressors" while her chosen name reflects her true heritage and identity. She has arrived with a male Muslim companion who may or may not be her husband. Their mother is hospitable and goes along with Dee's new name and identity without comment, while Dee rather gluttonously and unashamedly helps herself to the traditional food her mother has prepared.

After they share a meal, Dee begins to help herself to practical items that had been made by hand by family members, notably the hand-carved top and dasher of a butter churn. She announces her intention to use them as decorative items at her home and then asks her mother for two heirloom quilts that have been promised to Maggie when she marries. Maggie says that she does not object, but their mother will not allow it. Dee becomes angry and argues that Maggie will put the quilts to "everyday use" while she would hang them on the wall. As she leaves empty-handed, she makes a dismissive statement about her mother and sister not understanding their heritage.

The irony that Walker intends here is that it is actually Dee/Wangero who does not understand truly her heritage. She treats her mother and sister and the family heirlooms as artifacts of cultural anthropology, as if they are primitives to be studied instead of recognizing and taking pride in them as pragmatic survivors with their own American story to tell. Dee's radicalism is as foreign to them as they are to her, but the difference is that Dee comes off as inauthentic, rapacious and cruel while her mother and sister are content to be themselves. The story is often read as a challenge to the Black Power movement that Walker may have felt that some joined rather thoughtlessly.

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What's a good summary for "Everyday Use" by Alice Walker?

Through the use of a quilt, symbolic of the connecting pieces of one's roots and one's past, Alice Walker writes a story that provides the reader with the conflicting ideas about identity and ancestry that a family has.

In "Everyday Use," while the modern daughter has previously wanted nothing to do with the homemade furniture and the quilt as she has risen above her environment, she now sees the quilt as quaint, something to take back to the city and hang as "folk art"; the other sister has been promised this blanket that contains the history of the family in squares from Civil War uniforms, old shirts, etc.  And, when the scarred, uneducated sister Maggie tells her sister Dee that she may have the quilt, the mother realizes who truly deserves this coverlet.  It is Maggie who will truly appreciate the stitches made, the cloth from her father's clothes, scraps from old dresses.  So, the mother awards the family quilt to Maggie, who will use the quilt, not merely display it.  Maggie will continue the life of the quilt.  After Dee departs, the melancholic Maggie smiles a "real smile," a gesture symbolic of the authenticity of her feelings and use of the quilt.

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