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Essay on Quilts and Art in Everyday Use

Quilts and Art in Everyday Use

With her story, “Everyday Use,” Alice Walker is saying that art should be a living, breathing part of the culture it arose from, rather than a frozen timepiece to be observed from a distance. To make this point, she uses the quilts in her story to symbolize art; and what happens to these quilts represents her theory of art.(thesis)

The quilts themselves, as art, are inseparable from the culture they arose from. (topic sentence) The history of these quilts is a history of the family. The narrator says, “In both of them were scraps of dresses Grandma Dee had worn fifty and more years ago. Bits and pieces of Grandpa Jarrell’s Paisley shirts. And one teeny faded blue piece . . . that was from Great Grandpa Ezra’s uniform that he wore in the Civil War.” So these quilts, which have become an heirloom, not only represent the family, but are an integral part of the family. Walker is saying that true art not only represents its culture, but is an inseparable part of that culture. The manner in which the quilts are treated shows Walker’s view of how art should be treated. Dee covets the quilts for their financial and aesthetic value. “But they’re priceless!” she exclaims, when she learns that her mother has already promised them to Maggie. Dee argues that Maggie is “backward enough to put them to everyday use.” Indeed, this is how Maggie views the quilts. She values them for what them mean to her as an individual. This becomes clear when she says, “I can ‘member Grandma Dee without the quilts,” implying that her connection with the quilts is personal and emotional rather than financial and aesthetic. She also knows that the quilts are an active process, kept alive through continuous renewal. As the narrator points out, “Maggie knows how to quilt.”

The two sisters’ values concerning the quilt represent the two main approaches to art appreciation in our society. Art can be valued for financial and aesthetic reasons, or it can be valued for personal and emotional reasons. When the narrator snatches the quilts from Dee and gives them to Maggie, Walker is saying that the second set of values is the correct one. Art, in order to be kept alive, must be put to “Everyday Use” — literally in the case of the quilts, figuratively in the case of conventional art.

Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre – Jane Eyre and I

Jane Eyre and I

For me reading Jane Eyre was no mere intellectual exercise; it was an experience which served to reflect a mirror-image of what I am. Jane’s rainbows and cobwebs are mine; we are one. I think that she would be as engrossed in reading an account of my life as I was in reading hers. I see her reading Ruth Rosen on a stormy night, covers up to her chin, with candlelight flickering and wind whistling across the heath. I read hers tucked into bed, as wind rattled the windows and bellowed through the caverns of Trump Village. Every page of Jane Eyre seemed to uncover another similarity between us. One passage was particularly meaningful to me because I found it to be a melding of several characteristics:

No reflection was to be allowed now; not one glance was to be cast back; not even one forward. Not one thought was to be given either to the past or future. The first was a page so heavenly sweet–so deadly sad–that to read one line of it would dissolve my courage and break down my energy (p. 323).

Here we see Jane as romantic, moral, passionate, vulnerable and highly principled.
My past grinds at my guts, but I realize now that I couldn’t have done otherwise taking into account my romantic and moral inclinations, my passions, my vulnerability and high principles. Jane was tormented by her choices for the same reasons. Jacques Brel said, “Perhaps we feel too much and maybe that’s the crime, perhaps we pray too much and there isn’t any shrine…” But that’s cynical, and defensive and incurable romantics like Jane and me would argue vehemently with Mr. Brel’s lyric. To me (and probably to Jane) without passion and the Quest, life is a living death; without the willingness to do, to try and perhaps, to fail, we are automatons.
Philosophers and psychologists tell us that we do what we do because of what we are. As kindred spirits, Jane and I would find ourselves in emotional and ethical quandaries and flight would be the only choice. It is a flight fueled by principles.
Flight was Jane’s only alternative when St. John Rivers proposed. He didn’t seek marriage on the basis of love, but as a device to woo her into becoming a fellow-missionary. She was appalled by this bloodless, lifeless request.

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