Essay 2: “Everyday Use”
Alice Walker’s short story, “Everyday Use” (on pages 1450-1457), raises important questions about the culture that we have inherited from previous generations of Americans. Though the story concerns the specific circumstances of one family, the conflict at the center of the story could stand in for a larger debate about the nature of this inheritance: When we look at the creations of Americans in the past, do we see them as artifacts of a by-gone way of life, or do we see them as an expression of experiences we share with the past?
In the story, Maggie and her sister Dee argue about what to do with their mother’s heirloom quilt. Dee, who has been educated and is living away from her family, thinks that the quilt should be hung up, like a painting, to be admired from a distance. Maggie, who has lived a traditional lifestyle with her mother, thinks that the quilt should be used on a bed to keep warm.
These two attitudes could be applied to the literature that we have been reading this semester. We might read them and feel the distance of history, viewing them as a record of the way Americans used to live and think. On the other hand, we might read them and feel personally close to the events and emotions they describe, viewing them as an extension of the way we live and think today.
For your second essay you will be exploring these ideas by choosing two or more of the texts from the course reading list and writing a well-formed essay in response to the following prompt:
What is the role of American Literature of the past in our sense of who we are today? Is this literature a document of the values and ideas of the past or is it a description of a timeless American character and experience?
**Please read Walker’s short story before beginning your work.**
Your essay must be at least 1250 words in length, cite at least two appropriate academic sources and at least two texts from the semester, include a Work Cited page, and follow MLA guidelines. You may choose to cite from “Everyday Use,” but it will not count toward these requirements. If you have questions about formatting and citations, a reliable resource can be found on the web at owl.english.purdue.edu