On Short Fiction and the Making of Meaning (Essay Sample)
- Create an original title. It should capture the reader’s interest and suggest the focus of your essay.
- Under your title include an epigraph in italics—an epigraph is a brief quotation from the text you are writing about. It is a way to signal your focus or gesture toward your thesis.
- Include a minimum of 5 direct quotations from the literary text you are analyzing. At the end of each quotation -- or at the end of the sentence in which you have included the quotation -- indicate (in parenthesis) the page number on which the passage appears. In general, your direct quotations should be brief (4 lines or less) and must always speak to the point you want to make.
- Include a Works Cited list in MLA style at the end of your essay –even if the only entry is the primary literary text you are analyzing. Do not use a separate page for the list.
- This is not a research paper; outside sources are not recommended
In this essay you will be presenting and arguing a thesis about the theme of one of the short stories on our syllabus. The essay should focus on what you consider to be the theme; the theme is the “general idea or insight” the story seems to want to convey or “the center, the moving force” of the literary text. Your essay should analyze how that theme emerges in the text. In the course of your analysis you should concentrate on one specific element of literary form and how it contributes to the communication of the theme.
A yard like this is more comfortable than most people know. It is not just a yard. It is like an extended living room. – Alice Walker
The words "Everyday use" from Alice Walker's short tale title may appear to be ordinary words that have no meaning, but they do. These two words have a profound meaning and convey an essential point. The fact that we treasure and use the things that matter the most to us every day is characterized as everyday use. When examined closely, the story focuses on the theme of heritage. The author explains the concept of culture through the major characters Mama, Dee, and Maggie. Walker puts a fresh twist to the story by portraying Mama and her rebellious daughter, Dee, in an ideological conflict. Mama values tradition more than Dee's African heritage, which culminates to an ideological confrontation that threatens to split the family apart.
Different characters in the story show a connection to their heritage, although not to a similar extent. Dee refuses to accept herself and her origin. Rather than honoring her culture, she has transformed it into an aesthetic and historical representation of how she presently views African heritage. Dee came from a minority and low-income family, and is educated as well as successful in life. It is expected that she should use her established position to increase her knowledge and market her heritage in a positive way. However, she changes her name to Wangero, which is a name without ties to her family. She picks items such as the family quilt, which is treasured by the family and is used on a daily basis, and all she cares about is having a collection in her house. “Out came Wangero with two quilts. They had been pieced by Grandma Dee and then Big Dee and me had hung them on the quilt frames on the front porch and quilted them” (Walker, para. 51). Dee is actually going backwards by obfuscating the facts of her heritage. Mama isn't well-versed in the culture, either. She clings to what she knows, but when Dee arrives, she shifts her perspective. Mama finds it difficult to stare directly at Dee's modern attire at first, but after a while, Mama enjoys it. She seemed to admire her daughter's way of life. Maggie maintains a unique perspective on her heritage, seeing herself as the most firmly rooted in it. Grandma Dee and Bid Dee have even taught her how to make quilts. She maintains a passive attitude, believing that other people 's interests should come first.
At the very beginning, the reader is likely to conclude that Dee is self-centered and an outcast in the family, since Mama is recalling instances in which Dee manifested these characteristics. Dee, for instance, was unconcerned when their house burned down since she despised it and said that she would dance around the ashes. Dee looks to be returning home to meet her family, but her return has a greater motive. Dee, or Wangero as she prefers to be called, is interested in learning more about African culture. She discovers two quilts that she wanted to preserve and would not part with. She criticizes her mother over a promise made to Maggie about gifting her the blanket after getting married. “Maggie can’t appreciate these quilts!” she said. “She’d probably be backward enough to put them to everyday use” (Walker, para. 63). Dee (Wangero) appears to be moving to a more African way of life. Her name is changed to a more Native African name, as well as the outfit she wears. The only thing she requires is cultural understanding, which is the most essential to her. This is most certainly why Mama decided to pass the quilt to Maggie; she demonstrates a greater understanding and admiration for a traditional practice that has been carried down through the generations. Moreover, the quilt appears to have greater value than previously assumed; it was one of the methods that women passed down knowledge and custom to succeeding generations.
One of the symbols that Walker expresses is that they yard felt like an extension of the front living, and that Mama and Maggie cleaned the yard before Dee showed up and after she left. “A yard like this is more comfortable than most people know. It is not just a yard. It is like an extended living room” (Walker, para. 1). Walker makes it clear that the yard is a spot where Mama enjoys thinking about and reflecting on her contributions to the family. She also imagines what would be the case if she were more attractive. Walker included this component into Mama's character, as well as the distinct language and phrases she uses to make the story appear more real to the reader. Walker gives Mama the opportunity to tell her narrative to the audience in her own unique way. Mama adds phrases that shed light on the difficult task of deciding who gets to preserve the quilt. This scenario is not turning out the way she had hoped. Mama imagined about the family reunion on Johnny Carson's television show. On stage, they would embrace and everything would be normal, but reality is far from her fantasies. Mama and Maggie sit in the yard till bedtime, pondering on what had happened after Dee and Mama have one last controversial debate. Walker's message is that education can both unite and divide people. Dee's knowledge not only set her apart from her family, but it also set her apart from herself. She had also lost her sense of history and culture, and she sought change. Change has the potential to both heal and destroy a person.
On the surface, the story appears to be a contrast of the conflicting lives of two sisters. Dee, the older sister, has had the wonderful fortune of receiving an education and living a happy life. She has found a husband and is no longer stays at home. She is now well-dressed and has not given up her will to strive for herself. Maggie, on the other hand, has acquired nothing except just few skills from her grandmother and mother. She hasn't found a good-looking boyfriend except for John Thomas. “Like good looks and money, quickness passes her by. She will marry John Thomas (who has mossy teeth in an earnest face)” (Walker para. 13).
From a different perspective, the author aims to investigate how African culture might be regarded, cherished, and preserved. Dee considers the culture to be more of an art form that should be displayed in the house. She continue
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