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
In the story "Everyday Use" the readers get to see what a heritage meas to different people, that's why this story is an important one, in my opinion, to read to younger generations. Everyone has their own way of learning about their heritage and understanding what it means to them. They are allowed to have their own individual thoughts on their heritage and gather their own conclusions. That's what I loved because no two people are going to have the same ideas towards their heritage.
In the story there are two girls who show interests in their heritage, in very different ways. You have Dee who is self-centered, spoiled, and strong-willed. She wants the world to focus on her and she wants to show them how she came from nothing. So in order to capture this the author, Alice Walker, had Dee take a picture of her house so that Dee could show her friends that she came from a poor family and became something. She wanted to show how it doesn't matter where you come from as long as you have the drive to become something better. Dee put her heritage on display for dramatic superficial reasons. Then the author has Dee change her name to an African name "Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo". Dee did so in order to acknowledge her heritage and where she came from; however, the rest of her family saw it as a joke. Then when asked why Dee changed her name she responded with: "I couldn't bear it any longer, being named after the people who oppress me.". They didn't take her seriously.
Then we have the other sister, Maggie, who is Dee's shadow and is a push over. Maggie views heritage as a tradition, something to pass down from generation to generation. The readers see this in the story with the "quilt" and the "churn top". When Grandma gives Maggie a quilt for her wedding present Dee all of a sudden just has to have that quilt. To Dee it's a symbol, something else she can put on display. Maggie, on the other hand, knows the history behind this quilt and has her grandmother's memories and she doesn't need the quilt the way Dee does: "She can have them, Mama, I can 'member Grandma Dee without the quilts". Maggie doesn't need the objects because she has the memories, whereas Dee needs these objects because she isn't invested like Maggie is in their heritage. Then with the churn top Dee wants it for a decoration, once again to display her heritage. She has no meaning attached to this churn top except for what it represents: "Then she gave a sigh and her hand closed over Grandma Dee's butter dish. 'That's it!' she said. 'I knew there was something I wanted to ask you if I could have.' She jumped up from the table and went over to the corner where the churn stood......'This churn top is what I need,' she said. 'Didn't Uncle Buddy whittle it out of a tree you all use to have?' This passage shows that Dee only wants pieces of her heritage, but not the stories behind them. What Maggie has are the stories behind these historical pieces. She values her heritage for what it's worth and for passing it on.