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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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5. Masculine Heroes   

16. The Search For Identity

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Activities: Author Activities

Alice Walker - Author Questions

Back Back to Alice Walker Activities
  1. Comprehension: The story begins with a dedication that reads: "For Your Grandmamma." How does this dedication shape your understanding of the text? Who does the "your" refer to here: the reader? Someone in the story? And why "Grandmamma"? What is being suggested here?

  2. Comprehension: Why does the story begin with such a detailed description of the yard?

  3. Comprehension: Why have Dee and her boyfriend changed their names to "Wangero" and "Hakim-a-barber"? Why did Dee reject her birth name? What is the significance of the new names? Also, consider Dee/Wangero's new clothes.

  4. Context: Closely read Walker's descriptions of the family's house and compare it to [7030], a photograph taken in 1958. These two houses were categorized as "good enough for Negro occupancy" (later, a housing project was built in their place). What does "good enough" mean? "Read" the photo, as well. What is behind the girl in the foreground? Note her clothes, her stance. Consider the condition of both the house and the yard.

  5. Context: Consider the quilts as "collages" of the family's history. What different elements are brought together in the quilt? You might also consider how the quilts serve as memorials to earlier generations. Are the quilts more a memorial to a person, Grandma, as Maggie seems to believe, or a culture, as Dee/Wangero seems to believe?

  6. Context: Dee/Wangero seems to feel contempt for her family because they have not, in her opinion, "progressed" into modernity. Compare her anxieties to those expressed in phrases about "F.O.B." Chinese Americans in Maxine Hong Kingston's Tripmaster Monkey. Discuss these characters' fears of seeming unassimilated, unsophisticated, and uncultured.

  7. Exploration: Early in the story the narrator offers a frank description of herself as a "big-boned woman with rough, man-working hands." She goes on to catalog her various features. Why does she do this? What is she trying to suggest and what does she ultimately accomplish by revealing these things about herself? Do you think that her self-description is meant to convince the reader that she is a certain type of person and, therefore, to be trusted? Are certain types of people inherently more trustworthy than others?

  8. Exploration: When Dee/Wangero arrives at her mother's homestead, she begins collecting the things she wants to bring back with her. What do the things she wants tell us about her? What does she want to do with them, and why are her intentions here significant?

  9. Exploration: How might we read the argument between Dee/Wangero and her mother over the quilts as a commentary on the function of art and/or heritage? What is each character suggesting about the meaning and purpose of the quilts? What does each believe they should be "used" for? Does the text encourage us to side with one or the other? If so, how does it manipulate our sympathies?

  10. Exploration: Two characters in a story can be called "doubles" when they represent two perspectives about one issue. Some readers have suggested that Maggie and Dee/Wangero are doubles who embody different positions in mid- to late-twentieth-century debates about African American culture and progress. Consider Maggie's statement that "I can 'member Grandma Dee without the quilts" and Dee/Wangero's statement, "You just don't understand . . . your heritage. It's really a new day for us."

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