The piece of work I chose is “Everyday Use” by Alice Walker. I have listed some possible thesis statements below.
**Feel free to change it or you can come up with one that you think is better.**
- Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use” introduces a clash between generations. Now and then, Maggie and Dee. She carefully portrays the three characters: The mother, Dee. And Maggie.
- Alice Walker narrates the story of the conflict in relation to identity and heritage in her short story “Everyday Use.”
Below is the instruction that my professor provided to me:
For this paper, you will choose one of the authors from the African American unit of the course. You will then use that work to answer the following question.
How does this piece of literature reveal the true nature of the African American experience?
For example, if we were writing about Rita Dove’s “Banneker,” a possible thesis statement could be Rita Dove’s poem, “Banneker,” shows how African American contributions to society are often forgotten, minimized, and attributed to other people.Your research paper would then support this claim.
Once again, you can choose a different thesis statement if you like, as long as you follow my professor’s guidelines I am totally fine with it.
Everyday Use by Alice Walker
Alice Walker’s short story follows the encounter of an African American mother and her two completely different daughters, Dee and Maggie. Dee is the elder daughter, who is well-educated and independent, while Maggie is simple and traditional. Maggie lives with their mother a simple life in a new house after their older one burned down in a fire that left her with burn scars. The family, like many other African American, is struggling, although the mother was able to send her older daughter to school and even visit college. However, she was unable to give Maggie such good education, leaving her to struggle with her mother and live envying her sister. The story begins with the preparations of Maggie and her mother, waiting for Dee and her boyfriend. The encounter reveals considerable differences between Dee’s views and those of her mother and sister. Although the two sisters grew up together, as the story builds, the conflict in relation to identity and heritage emerges.
The short story reflects Walker’s personal situation and heritage and the reality of many African American women in their social circumstances. The story emphasizes on the differences in the understanding of traditions and cultural heritage, such as between educated and uneducated African American women. The story also reveals the conflict and struggle within African American culture in every day encounters and experiences. In the story, only Dee has received formal education, which causes her to change her views about her family, as well as her heritage and identity as a black woman. The encounter between the three women and the only male companion reveals differing interpretations of African American culture, such as in the way the educated individuals view it as opposed to the way uneducated women do (Whitsitt 443). For example, while the uneducated black women living in the rural areas are likely to be well-connected to their culture and heritage, the educated ones are likely to isolate themselves from the reality since their interactions are affected by the education process and contact with people from other cultures.
The conflicts and struggles between cultural heritage and identity emerges from the beginning of the story. Unlike her daughters, especially Dee, Mrs. Johnson, is connected to her physical surroundings. She feels at home “in the yard that Maggie and I made so clean and wavy” (Walker) as they wait for Dee. The emphasis on the beauty of the yard shows a strong connection with the environment that gives the character pleasure. The word, “so” in the statement reveals the level of attachment that Maggie and her mother have to the yard. The place is their heritage, a home and with strong connection to their everyday practices. She loves the place so much that she must be wishing her daughter, Dee would have a similar connection, which is highly unlikely since she is well-educated and belongs to a different world (Walker 2). Dee education is a critical part of her identity and heritage as she sees herself through different lens from her mother and sister.
The three characters reveal a conflict between cultural heritage and identity since their worlds have taken a different path. In fact, Maggie appears to agree with a fact that the world conspired to create a sister as a complete opposite. Even their mother describes Maggie as somewhat unattractive and shy. She has burn scars in a body that have scarred her soul and made her frightened about facing life. The statement appears to suggest that her identity is affected by the nature of her body. According to her mother: “like good looks and money, quickness passed her by” (Walker), which sounds like fate conspired to make her uglier and slower than her sister or like she does not deserve anything good. However, regardless of her limitations, her mother thinks of her as a sweet person. Besides, her heritage, though not identity, is somewhat connected, but in contrast with her sister’s. She is comfortable at home with her mother, who admits that she is the only one with whom she can sing songs at church. Besides being close to her mother, she has accepted her traditions and honors her ancestor’s memories, such being the only one who could quilt like her grandmother. However, their heritage and identity conflicts with Dee’s beliefs and views of cultural heritage.
Dee is almost the opposite of her sister, and even her mother. Her mother suggests that she has good looks, ambition, and education. Her mother states that she has to collect money from her church to send her to school. The story relates to the socio-economic reality of most African Americans, who struggle to educate their children. However, Dee appears to have disregarded this part of her heritage due to her education and beauty. Her education, unlike her mother and sister, played a critical role in shaping her character. Besides, the education isolated her from her heritage and family. Mamma says, “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” (Walker). The statement reveal that she almost completely lost touch with her African American heritage and traditions. She appears to have built a new identity and embraced other traditions that go against hers. The description reveals how the three characters have conflicted heritage and identities.
Unlike Dee, their mother raised Maggie as a simple, traditional black woman. She did not have the opportunity to get education and experience the outside world like her sister. Correlatively shaped her personality and manners since she was a young girl. In Walker’s world, Maggie’s character represents the elucidating of strongly separate positions towards cultural heritage between the two sisters and also their mother (Whitsitt 444). While Dee had developed an identity separate from her mother and sister, Maggie remains and developed her identity at their mother’s side. According to the narrator, Maggie is shy and scared and constantly by her mother’s side. She developed an identity connected to her mother, as an obedient shadow. Since she was raised by her mother and was constantly with her, unlike Dee, Maggie understood her origins, and knew where they came from. Dee lacked a similar experience as she was away getting formal education (Hanafy 3). Maggie and their mother understand and appreciate the treasure that holds the traditions and memories that pass from one generation to the next. Furthermore, with people like Maggie, there is a chance to pass cultural heritage and traditions from one generation to another.
Walker’s characters reveal critical conflicts and struggles regarding heritage and identity. Over the years and through Dee’s education the characters separated and embraced different paths in life. The conflict and struggle are so evident that Dee is trying to reconnect herself to her African roots. For example, she renamed herself Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo to prove the commitment. The process also shows her focus on recovering her “ancient” roots. However, the effort is misleading because she denies, or at least refuses, to accept her immediate traditions and heritage, which her sister and mother shares (Hanafy 3). The same struggle is evidence in the person she has selected as a boyfriend. For instance, the male companion took a Muslim name and does not eat pork and collard greens. The character has clearly refused to take the cultural heritage, which is African American. The four characters reveal a clear different in the understanding and embracing of cultural heritage and identities that are similar to or different from their roots.
The differences in relation to cultural heritage and identity is also evident in internal conflicts, such as in Dee’s character. Dee gets more complicated as the story proceeds and as she demonstrates internal battle with her heritage and identity. Dee expresses strong refined elements that leads to the audience’s understanding of her beauty and smartness. The narrator describes her as being thin with a little waste. Her skin was lighter than her sister’s bringing another dimension of struggle with her black heritage. Besides, she was well-educated and fashion integrity, recurrently requiring more pleasant things that her family could not afford. The conflict emanates from the fact that her heritage offered something completely different from what she desired. Such conflict affected her identity since she identified herself with something that different from a cultural reality (Walker). The story centers on the internal conflict within Dee, including the need to embrace a new cultural heritage while her cultural background did not allow her to change. She was always connected to her culture and traditions regardless of how educated and modernized she had become.
Walker highlights the differences in the women’s understanding of culture. The three women had different personalities created by their different experiences in life. The characters represent different realities in the lives of African Americans, such as those educated and uneducated ones living in rural areas. For example, while Maggie and her mother remained back at home without proper education and living a traditional life, Dee got the chance to be educated and embrace a new culture and traditions. Dee represents a materialistic and modern cultural heritage. In her world, culture and heritage are considered valuable for their being trendy. In the trendy culture, Maggie and her mother would be considered backward and uncivilized due to their traditional views and connection to their heritage (Walker). Dee’s mother and sister lived a contented, simple, and practical life, which she felt no connection to since she had lived and experienced a new world. While they appreciated their heritage, Dee has isolated herself with it and embraced a new identity.
Maggie and Dee are completely different characters, making it difficult to believe that they are sisters. The two were born by the same mother, but they took different paths in life as Dee gets formal education while Maggie remained at home with her mother. Thus, Maggie had the opportunity to learn from her mother about their cultural heritage, while Dee learned from other cultures as she interacted with different people getting formal education. Besides, the two developed different identities, such as Maggie assuming her African American heritage, while Dee got a modernized view of the self. The two and their mother revealed the conflict in relation to identity and heritage emerges.
Hanafy, Iman A. “Cultures in Conflict: An Interpretation of Alice Walker’s” Everyday Use.” Dirasat, Human and Social Sciences vol. 37, no.2, 2010
Walker, Alice. Everyday Use, Harper’s Magazine, 1973
Walker, Alice. Everyday use. Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic, 2004.
Whitsitt, Sam. “In spite of it all: a reading of Alice Walker’s” everyday use”.” African American Review vol. 34, no.3, 2000, pp. 443-459.