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
The Meaning of Heritage
Angered by what she views as a history of oppression in her family, Dee has constructed a new heritage for herself and rejected her real heritage. She fails to see the family legacy of her given name and takes on a new name, Wangero, which she believes more accurately represents her African heritage. However, the new name, like the “African” clothes and jewelry she wears to make a statement, is meaningless. She has little true understanding of Africa, so what she considers her true heritage is actually empty and false. Furthermore, Dee views her real heritage as dead, something of the past, rather than as a living, ongoing creation. She desires the carved dasher and family quilts, but she sees them as artifacts of a lost time, suitable for display but not for actual, practical use. She has set herself outside her own history, rejecting her real heritage in favor of a constructed one.
Mama and Dee have very different ideas about what “heritage” is, and for Mama, the family objects are infused with the presence of the people who made and used them. The family heirlooms are the true tokens of Dee’s identity and origins, but Dee knows little about the past. She misstates the essential facts about how the quilts were made and what fabrics were used to make them, even though she pretends to be deeply connected to this folk tradition. Her desire to hang the quilts, in a museumlike exhibit, suggests that she feels reverence for them but that to her they are essentially foreign, impersonal objects. Mama understands that Maggie, not Dee, should have the quilts, because Maggie will respect them by using them in the way they were intended to be used. When Dee contends at the end of the story that Mama and Maggie do not understand their heritage, Walker intends the remark to be ironic: clearly, it is Dee herself who does not understand her heritage.
The Divisive Power of Education
Although Mama struggled to send Dee to a good school, education proves to be more divisive than beneficial to Dee’s relationship with her family. Mama herself was denied an education. When she was a child, her school was closed, and no one attempted to try to reopen it. Racism, passive acceptance, and forces beyond her control set Mama on the road that led to her life of toil. Dee was fortunate that Mama gave her the opportunity for advantages and refinements, but they have served only to create a wedge between Dee and the rest of the family. Dee uses her intellect to intimidate others, greeting her mother with “Wa-su-zo Tean-o,” a greeting in an obscure African language Mama most likely doesn’t speak. Dee, with her knowledge and worldliness, is a threat to the simple world Mama and Maggie inhabit, and Dee seems determined to lord her knowledge over them. Even as a child, Dee read to her mother and sister “without pity,” “forcing” strange ideas on them and unsettling their simple domestic contentment.
Education has separated Dee from her family, but it has also separated Dee from a true sense of self. With lofty ideals and educational opportunity came a loss of a sense of heritage, background, and identity, which only family can provide. Dee arrives at the family home as a strange, threatening ambassador of a new world, a world that has left Maggie and Mama behind. Civil rights, greater visibility, and zero tolerance for inequality are characteristics of Dee’s world. These things are not, in and of themselves, problematic. What’s problematic is that Dee has no respect for anything but her world, leading her to alienate herself from her roots. Maggie, on the other hand, knows no world but the one she came from. Uneducated, she can read only haltingly. By doing what she is told and accepting the conditions of her sheltered life without question, Maggie has hampered her own self-fulfillment. Walker sets up this contrast to reveal an ironic contradiction: Dee’s voracious quest for knowledge has led to her alienation from her family, while the lack of education has harmed and stifled Maggie. Both education and the lack of it have proven to be dangerous for the sisters.
More main ideas from Everyday Use