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Alice Walker’s ”Everyday Use”

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Write an essay of approximately 750 words on “Everyday Use (For Your Grandmother,” by Alice Walker, in which you discuss the theme of the story, how the characters relate to or embody the theme, and the significance of the man-made objects (especially the quilt) to the theme. The theme of a story is similar to the thesis in an essay except that it is usually not stated explicitly; it is often implied and deals with a universal issue that the narrative explores through the use of specific events and characters. The theme is almost always more ambiguous than the other literary techniques. As with any essay, there should be a clear introduction, body, and conclusion; it should also be written in the third person, that is, eliminate the “I think,” “In my opinion,” etc. Your primary source is the short story itself, which is available on Blackboard. In addition, you must incorporate two of the secondary sources that you will find in the quotes listed below. Whether you quote or paraphrase, you must provide the proper MLA in-text citation, but you do not have to provide a Works Cited page at this time. Remember, these sources are to help support your argument/interpretation, not make the argument for you.

“‘. . . I really see that story as almost about one person, the old woman and two daughters being one person. The one who stays and sustains—this is the older woman—who has on the one hand a daughter who is the same way, who stays and abides and loves, plus the part of them—this autonomous person, the part of them that also wants to go out into the world to see change and be changed . . . .’” Statement by Alice Walker in an interview quoted by Mary Helen Washington in her “An Essay on Alice Walker,” on pages 101-102, and published in the book, Alice Walker, “Everyday Use,” edited by Barbara T. Christian, in the series Women Writers: Texts and Contexts, published by Rutgers University Press in 1994 in New Brunswick, NJ. Washington’s essay is on pages 85-104.

On page 102 of this essay, Mary Helen Washington writes, “Everywhere in the story the fears and self-doubt of the woman artist are revealed. The narrator-mother remains hostile to Dee and partial to the homely daughter, Maggie, setting up . . . opposition between the two daughters. . . .” Washington further states, on page 103, that “‘Everyday Use’ tells a . . . threatening tale of the woman writer’s fears, of the difficulty of reconcil- ing home and art, particularly when the distance from home has been enlarged by educa- tion, by life among the ‘gentlefolk,’ and by literary recognition.”

“In critically analyzing the uses of the concept of heritage, Walker arrives at important distinctions. As an abstraction rather than a living idea, its misuse can subordinate people to artifact, can elevate culture above the community. And because she uses, as the arti- fact, quilts which were made by Southern Black women, she focuses attention on those supposedly backward folk who never heard the word heritage but fashioned a functional tradition out of little matter and much spirit.” Barbara T. Christian, “Alice Walker: The Black Woman Artist as Wayward.” This quote is on page 130; the whole essay is on Pages 123-147 and is in the same book as the previous two quotes.

Also in this book, Houston A. Baker, Jr. and Charlotte Pierce-Baker offer another perspective on the story in their essay, “Patches: Quilts and Community in Alice Walker’s ‘Everyday Use’” (pages 149-165):

“If one takes a different tack and suggests that the quilt as a metaphor presents not a stubborn contrariness, a wayward individuality, but a communal bonding that confounds traditional definitions of art and of the artist, then one plays on possibilities in the quilting trope [metaphor] rather different from those explored by [Barbara T.] Christian. What we want to suggest in our own adaptation of the trope is that it opens a fascinating interpretive window on vernacular dimensions of lived, creative experience in the United States. Quilts, in their patched and many-colored glory offer not a counter to tradition, but, in fact, an instance of the only legitimate tradition of ‘the people’ that exists.” This passage is on page 158.

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