Fiction Essay DRAFT

 This is the instructions:

In this essay, you are offering an opinion (an argument) about a literary work of fiction from our syllabus that you are backing up with evidence (facts from the story). The finished product will be approximately 1,000 words in length, typed with standard font size and margins, double spaced. The essay will be evaluated on your use of a good thesis sentence, the support of the thesis through textual evidence, and your ability to offer thoughtful analysis rather than plot summary.

As always, your paper should be written in standard academic English, be formal in tone, and be substantially free of grammatical and mechanical errors.


If you are using sources, you must properly document the sources both within the paper as parenthetical citations as well as provide the necessary information about the sources on an accurately formatted works cited page. Use MLA format.

Avoid using “I, me, my, mine” or “we, our, us, let’s,” as these are meant to be formal, academic essays. Instead, use “one, they, them, the critic, the reader,” and so on.

This is the story you will be using to do the assignment:

An Essay on “Everyday Use” -Hegel Hoel This is an excerpt from a longer essay: Names are extremely important in African and African American culture as a means of indicating a person’s spirit (13). These important names Dee bases her new-found identity on resemble Kikuyu names, but they are all misspelt. Wangero is not a Kikuyu name, but Wanjiru is. It is one of the other original nine clan names of the Kikuyus. (Cf. Kenyatta’s Facing Mount Kenya, Secker & Warburg London 1961, p. 8) The last of the three names is also distorted. The correct Kikuyu name is Kamenju. The middle name is not a Kikuyu name at all. One of my Kikuyu informants told me he knew a lady from Malawi who was called Le(e)wanika. Later (in January 2000) I found out that there was a king Lewanika in Barotseland in Zambia from 1842 – 1916. Alice Walker may have wanted Dee “who knew what style was” (p. 50 in In Love and Trouble) to assume a royal touch as an African princess. The names are therefore a mixture of names from more than one ethnic group and maybe that is the point. Dee has names representing the whole East African region. Or more likely, she is confused and has only superficial knowledge of Africa and all it stands for. This idea is strengthened when you look at the other African phrase Dee Wangero uses in the short story. She greets her mother: «Wa-su-zo-Tean-o». This is a Luganda phrase showing how the Buganda people of Uganda say «Good Morning». It can be translated as something like “I hope you have slept well”. One can wonder why she uses this greeting when she must know that the phrase will make no sense for her mother. What this adds up to is a pan East African mixture of names and phrases used by Dee in the story. Add to this her long, flowing dress, which is probably a West African feature. The only Africans I have seen in traditional flowing dresses in East Africa are the Muslim women on the coast hiding inside their black bui-buis. Otherwise colorful traditional dresses are made of two pieces such as the kangas in Tanzania or have a distinct waist line with a sash, such as the busutis in Uganda. Of course I have seen and even bought and used long, flowing gowns made for tourists, but they have nothing to do with traditions, only with fashion. Then you may ask: Does Dee know or care? or Does Alice Walker know or care? I believe Alice Walker does know, and that she has made Dee embrace this confusion of misunderstood cultural bits and pieces from all over Africa on purpose either to let Dee represent anything African or to portray her as a very shallow and superficial young woman who does not bother to check her sources. Dee follows the fashion, and right now it is «in» to celebrate the distant African roots. She has discarded her given name, Dee because as she says: “I couldn’t bear it any longer, being named after the people who oppress me.”(p.53 in In Love and Trouble). She fails to understand that the name, Dee, also goes back several generations on the American continent and therefore is more part of her heritage than an adopted African name which does not even make sense. Christian goes on to say this about Walker and African names: During the 1960s Walker criticized the tendency among some African Americans to give up the names their parents gave them – names which embodied the history of their recent past – for African names that did not relate to a single person they knew. Hence the grandmother (sic!) in «Everyday Use» is amazed that Dee would give up her name for the name Wangero. Dee was the name of her great-grandmother, a woman who had kept her family together against all odds. Wangero might have sounded authentically African but it had no relationship to a person she knew, nor to the personal history that sustained her (14). Dee’s companion in the story, Hakim a Barber is a Black Muslim who greets the mother and sister with the well known Arab greeting Asalamalakim ( as-salam alaykum) which means «peace be with you». The mother in the story, Mrs Johnson, at first thinks this is his name, that he is introducing himself, and some confusion arises till he tells her that she can call him Hakim a Barber. This is a corruption of the name Hakim al Baba since Barber is not an Arab name, but in Mrs Johnson’s mouth it would probably have been pronounced the same way. This is most likely Alice Walker’s way of mocking people who shred their recent roots to take on foreign names without questions. These names clearly make no sense to ordinary sensible people. Walker may know that Hakim means (religious) ruler or leader and she therefore adds to the irony when Mrs Johnson, who is a practical woman, shows that she has respect for her Muslim neighbors when she says: «You must belong to those beef-cattle peoples down the road. They said «Asalamalakim» when they met you, too». But her daughter’s city dwelling companion answers: «I accept some of their doctrines, but farming and raising cattle is not my style». He accepts what is suitable for him and leaves the rest. Some spiritual leader to guide you, you could say! He does not eat pork though, something Dee delights in, but she does not have a Muslim name either. Alice Walker said in an interview with John O’Brien in 1973, here quoted from Barbara Christian’s book : I am intrigued by the religion of the Black Muslims. … «Everyday Use» a story that shows respect for the «militancy» and progressive agricultural programs of the Muslims, but at the same time shows skepticism about a young man who claims attachment to the Muslims because he admires the rhetoric. It allows him to acknowledge his contempt for whites, which is all he believes the group is about (75-76). All in all this couple is put in an unflattering light and you can of course say that it is not necessary to know about the confusion of their names to understand that. I still argue that this knowledge adds depths to the understanding of the characters in the story.

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