Theme Analysis

Discussion #1: Theme Analysis

Purpose: To analyze the conflict, plot, and theme of a story.

All fiction is driven by conflict. In the story “Everyday Use” by Alice Walker, the oldest daughter Dee (later renamed “Wangero”) experiences conflict with her family regarding her racial and cultural identity. In deciding to adopt a more authentically African identity, Dee/Wangero undermines the African American identities of her mother and sister. This conflict is ultimately resolved, revealing a theme about heritage and identity.

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WRITING PROMPT: For your discussion this week, make an argument that identifies at least ONE theme “The Yellow Wallpaper” by considering what the protagonist’s main conflict and how she attempts to resolve this conflicts.

Remember, a conflict can come from multiple sources; a protagonist could be in conflict with another character, society at large, the natural world, fate or a god, or as is often the case, himself/herself. Start your analysis by considering with what/whom Jane ( the protagonist in “The Yellow Wallpaper”) is in conflict. Address how she deals with the conflict and whether she is successful. From this, draw a conclusion about the theme and what Gilman was trying to show readers.

For example, in “Everyday Use,” one of the conflicts the narrator, Mama, faces pertains to familial relationships: she must choose whether to give the old quilts – made by she and Grandma Dee – to her eldest daughter, Dee, or her youngest daughter, Maggie. On one hand, Dee has the family namesake of her grandmother and great grandmother; however, Dee changed her name to Wangero, saying “I couldn’t bear it any longer being named after the people who oppress me” (483, par. 27). Of course, she is referring to the historical practice of slave owners naming their slaves, which she directly links to an African American heritage that she seeks to reject in exchange for an African identity. Though her family members did not oppress her, she seeks to disassociate from their history of oppression.

On the other hand, Maggie is immersed in her African American identity. Maggie may not consider how problematic this identity continues to be, but she also does not recoil from it. While Wangero believes Mama and Maggie don’t understand their heritage, it is actually she who has negated it in lieu of another heritage. I would argue that because of Mama’s characterization, she is successful in resolving this conflict by not allowing Dee to take the quilts, instead preserving them for Maggie, who has immersed herself in learning to make quilts and who appreciates them for “everyday use,” as opposed to reducing them to cultural artifacts to be hung on a wall. In this, Mama has made an assertion for upholding her family’s heritage and honoring the daughter who has consistently done the same. One theme that Gilman is suggesting, I believe, is that people should not abandon their personal history and heritage regardless of how unpleasant and unjust it is.

Allow the theme to come to you as you work through the conflicts and plot in the story. Don’t try to start with a theme and see how the plot events fit it. The theme I gave above is only one possible theme among many, and so you all may come up with different themes, based on the conflict you focus on and the way you interpret the resolution of the conflict. (For instance, those who feel that the narrator of “Everyday Use” has failed to embrace her true African heritage because she acquiesces to expectations of a white society would come up with a different theme for the story than those who see Mama as representing the richness of African American culture.)

Do not use any outside research for this discussion; your analysis should be completely original.

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NOTE: For this paper, do not explicate the same passage you analyzed in Discussion #3.

For this assignment, you are going to explicate a passage from one of the short stories we have read thus far. As the textbook explains, explication involves spelling out the implications of what has been written. In other words, you will carefully explain a passage from a short story by spelling out the meaning of the specific details, setting, events, characters, actions, imagery, themes, or dialogue. In this way, you will interpret the literary work for your readers, presenting them with your unique reading experience.

For explication, you will choose a meaningful passage from a story – one that is central or critical to the overall meaning of the story. A passage can range anywhere from a paragraph to a page. Please consider the following:

  • What is the significance of the plot, setting, characters, theme, or symbols/imagery in the passage?
  • What does the passage do? How does it work with respect to plot, theme, characterization, imagery, and/or dramatic effect (as relevant)?
  • What is significant about this passage to the literary work as a whole?
  • How does the author engage readers at the level of language, ideas and style?

Walk your reader through the passage, commenting upon and quoting specific words and phrases as you go, and be sure to delve more deeply where you see the greatest significance to the meaning of the story overall. Your essay should be structured in a way that explains the passage chronologically – as it appears in the text – so the reader can follow your points and keep your analytical thread if they were to read the story themselves.

Along with your explication of the passage, you should explain how your reading of this passage impacts and enriches your understanding of the text as a whole. If you are able to draw from prior knowledge, feel free to explore the additional layers of meaning related to historical, cultural, or social phenomena surrounding the production of the work. You may use the first person “I” for this section, but do not seek “help” from outside sources.

Let me repeat: Please DO NOT use secondary sources for your explication. I am only interested in your own honest interpretation and close reading of a story, and I will respect your attempts to make meaning of it using your own close reading and critical thinking.

Above all, your essay must promote a clear controlling idea about the significance of the passage to the overall meaning of the story, as well as demonstrate coherent organization and thoughtful, thorough development. The paper should be formatted in MLA and organized as a standard academic essay, with an introduction that contains the thesis, a multi-paragraph body, and a conclusion. Each body paragraph should be unified; topic sentences will help you do this. Use a clear order of supporting details, and provide transitions between paragraphs.

The paper must be a minimum of 1,000 words long, but there is no maximum limit. Save the paper in .doc, .docx, or .pdf. I will not be able to make marginal comments in other file formats.

To view the rubric for this assignment, click the following links: “Grades” (to the left) > “Explication Paper” > “Show Rubric” (upper right corner).


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