The Exclusivity of Racial Categories: An Analysis of the Racial Ambiguity in Toni Morrison’s “Recitatif”
Post-colonialism is concerned with the effects of colonization on the colonized. In fact, Richard Schur argues “that there can be no simple escape from the effects race, racism, gender, and sexism without some sort of decolonization” (277). One affect involves how language is used to form racial categories. Contemporary ideas of race include the belief that everyone fits into their rightful category. A black person must look and act a certain way because that is the Western assumption. This goes for any race. By refusing to racially identify any of her characters, Toni Morrison’s “Recitatif” makes this Western way of thinking difficult. Readers find themselves preoccupied with racializing each character, relying on the characters’ mannerisms, appearances, experiences, speech, etc. Readers search for anything that signals “blackness” or “whiteness” to them in order to properly categorize Twyla and Roberta. In reality, “Recitatif’s” racial ambiguity confronts readers with their own stereotyped ways of thinking, demonstrating how racial categories are Western constructs. In addition, Morrison is careful to go against the structure of racial categories to confuse readers even more, demonstrating the power that writers hold in proper representation. The Western obsession with being able to racially categorize people excludes people who do not fit easily into this category; people like Maggie. Maggie embodies racial hybridity, illustrating that racial categories are not accurate representations of race. Toni Morrison’s “Recitatif” complicates the Western ideas of race in order to expose the stereotypes and restrictiveness that are inherent to racial categories. In doing so, “Recitatif” demonstrates how abiding by racial categories leads to misrepresentations of races.
Through its maintenance of racial ambiguity, “Recitatif” challenges the role of the reader. By not explicitly stating which character is black and which character is white, readers attempt to determine where Twyla and Roberta fit within the two categories. Readers rely on their own perceptions of what it means to be ‘black’ and what it means to be ‘white.’ Stanley argues that “[w]omen and people of colour have long struggled against a dominant culture that places them in subordinate positions, defined by being outside of white, masculinist forms” (73). “Recitatif” confronts readers with their reliance on this type of representation. Without being told the race of the characters, readers analyze the text, searching for clues that might put one of the girls in this position “outside of white,” reinforcing that oppressive way of thinking. Elizabeth Abel writes that, as a white woman, she pictures Twyla as white while a “black female feminist critic, Lula Fragd… [is] certain that Twyla [is] black” (471). The difference in these interpretations stems from the difference in each woman’s readership. While Abel focuses on “racial iconography,” she notes that Fragd emphasizes “cultural practices more historically nuanced” (474). In this case, each reader has her own set of characteristics that signify ‘blackness’ and a set of characteristics that signify ‘whiteness’ to both Fragd and Abel. To Fragd, Roberta fits into the ‘white’ category; to Abel, Roberta fits into the ‘black’ category, according to the signifiers. These signifiers work to help readers racialize either girl based on their position “outside of white.” I argue that these signifiers are the stereotypes that “Recitatif” challenges.
Abel pictures Roberta as being different from herself, especially during the Howard Johnson scene. In this sense, Abel is ‘othering’ Roberta and placing her in that position “outside of white.” Roberta is described as having hair “so big and wild” it covers her face, and “earrings the size of bracelets” (6). Abel concludes that in this moment “Twyla’s sense of inadequacy vis-à-vis Roberta, like her representation of her mother’s inferiority to Roberta’s, signal[s] Twyla’s whiteness to [her] by articulating a white woman’s fantasy… about black women’s potency” (474). This is one reading of Roberta and I argue, is representative of the readership “Recitatif” challenges. Abel relies on her own ideas of what being ‘black’ and being ‘white’ means to her, projecting her own racial categories onto Twyla and Roberta. Abel cannot see herself in Roberta and therefore concludes that she must be different, racially. What this story emphasizes, though, is that relying on stereotypes as Abel and Fragd do is dangerous in the sense that it ‘others’ people. Abel decides that Roberta is black simply because her appearance causes her to stand out. Roberta’s hair is wild, unlike what she pictures white women’s hair to be. Due to the fact that Roberta does not appear to be recognizably white, Abel concludes that Roberta must be black because a white girl cannot have “wild hair” or “big hoop earrings.” Abel is arguing that Roberta’s characteristics do no signify whiteness, they signify otherness and therefore, blackness. In this sense, Abel is creating racial categories based on stereotypes and what she views whiteness not to be. This is important because it places white in the superior position to black. If Roberta does not display any signs according to ‘whiteness –’ or rather, what the racial category entails – then by default, she is black. She is not said to be displaying signs of ‘blackness,’ but instead, is described as showing signs of what white is not. This way of thinking makes “otherness” synonymous with “blackness,” a view that “Recitatif” rightfully challenges in its racial ambiguity. Relying on these signifiers is dangerous because they reinforce oppressive stereotypes.
Though what makes Abel consider Roberta to be black are signifiers, I argue that these signifiers resemble stereotypes in the sense that readers such as Abel hold images and ideas of what ‘black’ looks like and what ‘white’ looks likes. Shanna Greene Benjamin explains that “the impulse to ‘solve’ the racial conundrum permeating ‘Recitatif’ reveals an underlying theme central to Morrison’s short story. Readers want to be able to categorize characters one way or another, to ‘know’ race, and they will go to great lengths to assign racial categories if the writer fails to do it for them” (88). The story, then, becomes about racial tropes: who fits into which trope and what makes up these tropes? “Recitatif” wants to challenge the second question. The story forces readers to question their own readings of Twyla and Roberta; making readers ask themselves why they choose to categorize Twyla as white and Roberta as black or vice versa. The answer is: their own stereotypes. Racial categories enable stereotypes, therefore, readers are forced to question their own stereotypes when reading “Recitatif.” When Abel states that Roberta is black because she has “wild hair,” she is reinforcing the stereotype that all black people have “wild hair” even though wild hair is not inherent to any race. What happens to the black girl who does not have this type of hair? Racial categories – and the stereotypes that they enable – create a space where people who do not fit into the tropes of either category are left. These stereotypes are oppressive as they ‘other’ people. Stereotypes reinforce the notion that blackness is dependent on being different from whiteness. Racial categories create a disconnection between people, not allowing for any hybridity – any deviance from the accepted norm. By reading Twyla and Roberta as characters who fit into either race category, readers expose their own reliance on these oppressive tropes. Though critics such as Abel attempt to assign a race to Roberta and Twyla, it is clear that any attempt is futile as each girl resides in that space between races.
Morrison understands the power that she has as a writer; how people – how raced people – are represented is ultimately up to the author. Morrison points out in her own book on literary criticism that she is “a black writer struggling with and through a language that can powerfully evoke and enforce hidden signs of racial superiority, cultural hegemony, and dismissive “othering” of people and language” (x). As colonization occurs, marginalized peoples are forced to adopt the language of their oppressors – a language which is often used as a tool to further oppress marginalized people. Morrison clearly understands that in her own writing, she must be wary of correct representation. In his book The Negro Character in American Literature, Nelson is concerned with how the African American presence in America during slavery and abolition is presented as a comical, inferior character. Though I argue that the specific tropes Nelson illustrates are not as apparent in more recent works, racial tropes still exist. “Recitatif” challenges the tropes that writers rely on in order to represent race. As Stanley writes, “race studies, in [its] attempt… to challenge physical and cognitive stereotypes and the material confines associated with these stereotypes, often identify charges that… people of colour are disabled as a sign of disempowerment, a sign that they must transcend” (73). Stanley is illustrating the importance of language in proper representation, placing emphasis on stereotypes. As I have argued, readers preoccupy themselves with looking for stereotypes to signal Twyla’s and Roberta’s race; however, by not conforming to these stereotypes, Morrison makes it impossible for one character to be seen as completely empowered or disempowered and therefore, makes it difficult for readers to racialize the two girls. The tropes that Morrison uses continuously contradict each other, confusing readers and further demonstrating the limited way of thinking that racial categories enable.
Morrison is aware of the racial categories as well as the signifiers that readers rely on. I argue that she uses her knowledge in order to expose how exclusive and limiting this way of thinking is. Morrison writes that, historically, the purpose of the “American Africanism” presence is to “[establish] hierarchic difference” (63) which I argue “Recitatif” points to when Twyla explains that Roberta cannot read (2). “Recitatif” transcends these hierarchic differences by focusing on the similarities between Twyla and Roberta. Due to racism and discrimination, black people are often not given fair and equal access to quality education. Slavery prevents education, abolition makes it inaccessible, and, though education appears to be equally accessible to both Roberta and Twyla, I argue that Morrison incorporates the element of illiteracy to illustrate how, even with better access to education for everyone, writers tend to rely on the trope of an uneducated African American. In this sense, Stanley’s argument that people of colour are usually associated with a disability is evident within “Recitatif.” Readers will expect to associate blackness with the disempowered character; an uneducated character would reflect this disempowerment perfectly. This trope of an uneducated black character allows for a hierarchy to form where the educated white character is above the illiterate black character. This trope is clearly a misrepresentation and yet, is still widely accepted. Morrison challenges many literary tropes – and with it, racial categories – within “Recitatif,” including this one. Twyla also admits that she, herself, does not excel at school because she cannot remember anything (2). Instead of making one girl smarter than the other, Morrison creates similarities between the two. There is no smarter character; there is no superior character. Roberta and Twyla are too similar for readers to racially categorize. This is important because Morrison is presenting both a black and a white character in a similar fashion instead of writing them to fit into completely separate categories. Readers expect Morrison to use education in order to represent the race of either girl; however, in this instance Morrison denounces the tropes that writers have come to rely on by not conforming to them.
By not conforming to racial categories, “Recitatif” confuses its readers. In his book, Middleton writes that “[t]he task which lies ahead… is to lift the black self out of the [language] and to affirm these meanings in a medium which can truly be called a black text, a text whose margins are ruled by the black logos” (47). While this argument tries to separate white and black in literature, I argue that “Recitatif” undermines this. Middleton is reinforcing the notion that a “black text” must incorporate elements of “black logos,” which I argue still relies on the use of racial categories. “Recitatif” is not attempting to articulate that white and black people are the same – any American history textbook shows that this type of statement is incorrect – but rather, articulates the constructs of race. I use education as an example of tropes in my previous paragraph; however, there are many other instances where the tropes in “Recitatif” work to further confuse readers. Readers are meant to be confused. “Recitatif” makes the act of racializing the two girls very difficult by making them appear similar. Morrison does not keep Twyla in one racial category and Roberta in the other. Instead, each girl can easily fit into either category. “Recitatif” does not conform to the traditional ways of writing about race. Neither Twyla nor Roberta can fit perfectly in either racial category, illustrating that these categories are not accurate representations; they are constructs in the same way that feminist theory argues that femininity and masculinity are social constructs. These categories are meaningless when analyzed and work to further oppress marginalized peoples. Racial categories are restrictive as racial identity is not a fixed concept. Racial identity is different for everyone, including for Roberta and Twyla, as evidenced by their confused racialization of Maggie.
Each girl has a connection to Maggie. Not only does Maggie work at St. Bonny’s but she also reminds Roberta and Twyla of their mothers. When Roberta explains her reasoning for thinking that Maggie is black, Roberta tells Twyla that “[she] just remembers her as old, so old. And because [Maggie cannot talk]… [Roberta thinks Maggie] is crazy. Maggie [is] brought up in an institution like [Roberta’s] mother [is]” (19). As Abel argues, “[t]he two girls’ readings of Maggie become in turn clues for our readings of them” (472). If Roberta thinks that Maggie is black because of the similarities between her and Roberta’s mother, then it is logical to conclude that Roberta is black. I argue that there needs to be more focus paid to the ‘why;’ why does Roberta envision Maggie to be a black woman? If Roberta is black, then she has her own idea of what being black means. In forming her own race category, Roberta decides that Maggie is black simply because she sees her mother – and herself – in Maggie. On the other hand, if Roberta is white then perhaps her fear of being similar to Maggie – a woman who becomes a representation of her absent and sick mother – causes her to separate herself from Maggie. Roberta maintains this separation by categorizing her as black, something that Roberta can never be. If this is true, then Roberta is othering Maggie, characterizing her as black because she wants Maggie to be different from her own white self. Whether Roberta considers Maggie to be black because she, herself is black or because she is othering Maggie, Roberta is still creating her own racial category and determining Maggie’s race-based off of how well she fits into either category. It is important, though, that Roberta creates these racial categories – they are not fixed – and therefore, Roberta’s categorizing of Maggie is debatable.
Twyla, similar to Roberta, also sees her mother in Maggie, referring to Maggie as her “dancing mother” (17). Unlike Roberta, though, Twyla is not convinced that Maggie is black. In fact, Twyla is “puzzled by [Roberta] telling [her] Maggie [is] black” (17). Again, Twyla might see Maggie as white because Twyla’s own mother is white, similar to how Roberta concludes that Maggie is black. What is important is that Twyla has differing racial categories to Roberta’s, further demonstrating that racial tropes, stereotypes, and categories are not fixed; they are indefinite constructs misrepresenting the black and white presence within literature. Both Roberta and Twyla showcase conflicting ideas of race, proving that racial categories are not fixed, they are constructs. Conversely, Twyla’s own negative feelings associated with her mother may motivate her to distance herself from her mother. Twyla ‘others’ her mother when she draws attention to her clothing during the church scene, similar to when Abel others Roberta for her hair and earrings (4). In this sense, Twyla’s ‘othering’ of her mother might translate into her ‘othering’ of Maggie, similar to how Roberta could be othering Maggie in order to distance herself from Maggie. An argument can be made that Twyla considers Maggie to be white because Twyla does not want to see more of herself in Maggie. Twyla and Roberta are both confused by their own racial categories leaving them, and the readers, in confusion.
There is no answer at the end of “Recitatif” regarding Maggie’s race. Instead, Maggie appears to fit into both racial categories, according to Twyla and Roberta. The debate over whether Maggie is white or black is extremely important. Like “Recitatif’s” readers, Twyla and Roberta are consumed with categorizing Maggie as either black or white. This deliberation illustrates the fact that literature and language itself disallows any discrepancy. There is no in-between for both the reader’s racialization of Twyla and Roberta, and the girls’ racialization of Maggie. Racial categories reflect the idea of mono-culturalism; however, by not maintaining racial ambiguity, Recitatif rejects the idea of mono-culturalism. As Homi Bhabha introduces the idea of hybridity, this text reflects that same principle: it is not always simply black or white but rather, black and white. The difference is that mono-culturalism creates a distinct separation between black and white, not allowing for any cross over. Cultural hybridity allows for a connection to form. Maggie is described as being neither black nor white. This confusion does not signal that Twyla and Roberta have faulty memories, but rather that they do not have a way of defining someone who is neither black nor white, yet is both. This restrictiveness is caused by the ideas surrounding mono-culturalism. Maggie represents the hybridity that Bhabha explains, rejecting mono-culturalism. The reason why the two girls are confused when they attempt to racialize Maggie is because racial categories do not allow for hybridity. Neither Twyla nor Roberta fit into one racial category, and as both girls learn, neither does Maggie. “Recitatif” ignores the typical racial categories, rendering them meaningless, and exposing how readers and writers have come to rely on these unstable constructs.
Toni Morrison’s “Recitatif” defies conventional racial categories that Western culture establishes. The racial ambiguity within the story calls the readers’ own reliance on stereotypes into question. If race is not explicitly stated, readers must rely on their own perceptions of what black or white looks like. In attempting to racialize Twyla and Roberta, readers are faced with their own use of racial categories. Readers attempt to draw words and phrases out of the text that signify the ‘blackness’ or the ‘whiteness’ of either girl, exposing the stereotypes that arise from forming racial categories. Attempts to racialize Twyla and Roberta are shown to be futile as Morrison establishes the power she has to represent the black and white presence. By not complying to traditional ways of writing raced characters, Morrison articulates that relying on racial categories is a misrepresentation. Racial categories are exclusive; people who do not fit into them – people like Twyla, Roberta, and Maggie – are left outside of these categories and seemingly do not belong in society. Similar to how readers attempt to racialize Twyla and Roberta, Twyla and Roberta find themselves attempting to racialize Maggie. The racial categories that Western society offers do not allow for Maggie to belong to either the black or white category and yet, she represents both. “Recitatif” exposes the exclusivity of Western constructs of race by not conforming to traditional conceptions about race.
Abel, Elizabeth. “Black Writing, White Reading: Race and the Politics of Feminist Interpretation.” Critical Inquiry, vol. 19, no. 3, 1993, pp. 470–498., www.jstor.org/stable/1343961.
Benjamin, Shanna Greene. “The Space that Race Creates: An Interstitial Analysis of Toni Morrison’s ‘Recitatif.’” Studies in American Fiction, vol. 40, issue 1, 2013, pp. 87–106. Project MUSE, Project MUSE, https://login.proxy.library.carleton.ca/login?qurl=http://muse.jhu.edu%2farticle%2f507678%2fpdf
Bhabha, Homi K. “Signs Taken for Wonders: Questions of Ambivalence and Authority under a tree outside Delhi, May 1817.” Critical Inquiry. Vol. 12.1, 1985. 144-165. Print.
Morrison, Toni. Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination. 1st Vintage Books ed., Vintage Books, 1992.
Morrison, Toni. “Recitatif.” Chandler Unified School District, 1983, https://www.cusd80.com/cms/lib/AZ01001175/Centricity/Domain/1073/Morrison_recitatifessay.doc.pdf. Accessed 3 December 2017.
Nelson, John Herbert. The Negro Character in American Literature. 1st AMS ed., AMS Press, 1970.
Powell, Timothy B. “Toni Morrison: The Struggle to Depict the Black Figure on the White Page.” Toni Morrison’s Fiction: Contemporary Criticism. David L. Middleton. Vol. 30, 1997, pp. 45 – 60.
Schur, Richard L. “Locating ‘Paradise’ in the Post-Civil Rights Era: Toni Morrison and Critical Race Theory.” Contemporary Literature, vol. 45, no. 2, 2004, pp. 276–299. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3593567.
Stanley, Sandra Kumamoto. “Maggie in Toni Morrison’s ‘Recitatif’: The Africanist Presence and Disability Studies.” MELUS, vol. 36, no. 2, 2011, pp. 71–88. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/23035281.
A Grammatical Analysis of Toni Morrison’s Recitatif
Societally, most individuals enjoy believing that they are without bias. Whether it be gender, race, disability, or religion, everyone has preconceived notions about select people groups. While this can be difficult to admit, Toni Morrison constructs her short story, Recitatif, in a manner which forces her readers to face their biases and stereotypes. Through the use of devices such as non-standard English, intentional pronouns, unusual sentence structure, modals, unique punctuation, and direct speech, Morrison portrays societal challenges based on race, socioeconomic status, and disability, arguing the importance of understanding and protecting people different from ourselves. The word recitatif relates to speech and is thought of as a medium between song and ordinary spoken word. Morrison emulates this concept of an oral tale through the use of non-standard English in the form of fragment sentences. This colloquial structure creates the illusion that the narrator is talking, recounting her past and pondering the events that happened. In addition, the use of fragments disrupts the paragraphs and calls attention to the information these fragments contain. Because it is not traditional to use fragments in professional writing, these phrases stand out and indicate important material.
The first time that Morrison introduces the character Maggie, Morrison writes, “Maggie fell down their once. The kitchen women with legs like parentheses”(2). The fragment “The kitchen women with legs like parentheses” identifies Maggie. Maggie symbolizes disabilities and her character portrays how individuals with disability can be overlooked and marginalized by society. Another instance in which Morrison uses fragments to portray theme is in the quote, “How to believe what had to be believed”(10). The use of the fragment accentuates the statement and illustrates the key idea that individuals are able to justify actions of cruelty or injustice. Whether it be events that happen, or actions individuals perpetrate, Morrison implies that humans are able to compensate mentally for events by believing whatever they can to adjust personal and societal sins to be acceptable. A final instance where Morrison uses fragments to highlight theme is when Twyla explains that “Maggie was my dancing mother. Deaf, I thought, and dumb”(18). Separating, “Deaf, I thought, and dumb.” emphasizes these words and indicates their importance. Although Twyla’s mother is not literally deaf or dumb, this is the moment Twyla is finally able to admit why she harbors contempt for Maggie. Twyla is never able to tell her own mother the pain her mother’s lack of attention has caused her so she takes it out on a person who portrays her mother’s internal traits, externally. Recitatif is frequently studied because of the racial ambiguity it presents. Morrison introduces two characters, Roberta and Twyla and states that one is black and one is white, but does not specify which girl is which race.
One strategy that Morrison employs to conceal the races of her characters is the use of pronouns. When Twyla first meets Roberta, Twyla states that her mother would tell her that “They never washed their hair and they smelled funny”(1) when talking about people from Roberta’s race. Morrison’s use of the pronoun they allows her to talk about a people group without hinting to her readers what race she is referring to. Additionally, after Roberta and Twyla are reunited after years of separation, Twyla sees the immense wealth Roberta has gained and justifies that “Everything is so easy for them”(9). In this quote Morrison uses the word them to refer to a people group, but is able to restrict further detail about which race she is referencing. Concealing the girl’s races invites readers to guess about which girl belongs to which race. In doing this, Morrison affirms the idea that all people believe some sort of racial stereotypes. Throughout her story, Morrison will begin sentences with conjunctions. This unusual sentence structure indicates that crucial information is contained in this sentence. Generally, sentences do not begin with conjunctions, so the use of conjunctions almost jarrs the reader and leads them to pay attention to the following statement. Towards the beginning of Twyla’s and Roberta’s time together in the orphanage, Twyla explains that, “So for the moment it didn’t matter that we looked like salt and pepper standing there”(1). In the future, the fact that Twyla and Roberta belong to different races will drive them apart, but at this time it is deemed unimportant. The girls share a room and each of them belong to a family incapable of caring for them. This similarity outweighs their difference in race and connects them throughout their lives. Later on, when Twyla is reflecting about the emotional abuse she inflicted on Maggie, Twyla explains that, “And it shames me even now to think there was somebody in there after all who heard us call her names and couldn’t tell on us”(3). Again, Morrison begins a sentence with a conjunction to create an almost disjointed sentence that draws the reader’s focus. It is odd that Twyla must come to the realization that, “there was somebody in there.” This language suggests that, as a child, Twyla viewed Maggie as somehow less than human because of her disabilities and is only now seeing that her actions affected the life of a fellow human being. As Twyla narrates about the events of her life she seems to break away from telling the story about the past to add comments concerning her thoughts in the present.
Morrison’s use of modality illustrates how the events of Twyla’s life unfolded in opposition to how Twyla wished the event of her life had taken place. When Twyla first mentions Maggie, she recounts an event where Maggie falls and the older girls laugh and make fun of Maggie. After explaining the event, Twyla seems to break from the narration and introspectively admits that “We should have helped her up”(2). The use of the modal should distinguishes the events that did happen from the actions Twyla now believes should have taken place. A similar break occurs after Roberta reminds Twyla that Maggie did not fall on her own, but rather was pushed by the older girls in the orphanage. Twyla’s narration is interrupted as Twyla asks herself, “I wouldn’t forget a thing like that. Would I?”(14). Morrison uses a modal verb to indicate that the narrator is reflecting. Would portrays a break in confidence and shows that Twyla is unsure about the reliability of her memory. One of Morrison’s most powerful uses of modal verbs is found at the end of her story when Twyla thinks back on her time in the orphanage. Twyla remembers screaming derogatory names at Maggie and admits “I knew she wouldn’t scream, couldn’t – just like me and I was glad about that”(18). Twyla seems to correct herself adjusting her language from wouldn’t to couldn’t. These two modals hold strongly different connotations. Wouldn’t indicates a choice and suggests that Maggie decided not to scream, but couldn’t conveys the truthful reality that Maggie had no choice. She was unable to scream despite the abusive treatment she was being subjected to.
An additional way Morrison adds introspective thought as Twyla narrates is through the use of dashes. Frequently, the speaker interrupts herself to insert a thought that conveys truth. When Twyla is speaking about her relationship with Roberta she explains that they are “Two little girls who knew what nobody else in the world knew – how not to ask questions”(10). Both the girls come from difficult home situation and belong to mother’s incapable of caring for them. Instead of asking questions, Roberta and Twyla silently understand each other’s situations. This lack of questions is something that strengthens their friendship, but it also unites them as guilty in regards to the treatment of Maggie. Roberta’s and Twyla’s hesitation to ask questions stops them from understanding Maggie and helping her as she faces abuse and marginalization. Instead of interceding on behalf of a disabled women, they ignore and even support the torment Maggie is subjected to. Another instance where Morrison uses dash to interrupt a thought with a truthful reality is in the sentence “It was just that I wanted to do it so bad – wanting to is doing it” (19). Roberta is talking about how the older girls in the orphanage would kick and make fun of Maggie, and while Roberta and Twyla never engaged in this, each of them wanted to. Roberta admits that these feelings of malice, even if not backed by action, are equally as damaging as the physical actions Maggie suffered from. Twyla and Roberta did nothing to help Maggie and even mentally encouraged the actions of the other girls. This lack of action proved to be as equally harmful as the older girl’s physical actions. Morrison’s use of punctuation emphasizes key elements in her story. Morrison uses colons in her writing to denote important concepts. When introducing Maggie’s character, Twyla recalls that, “The kids said she had her tongue cut out, but I think she was just born that way: mute”(2). Morrison incerts a colon to separate the word mute from the rest of the sentence. This separation draws attention to the words and introduces the importance of the idea of being mute going forward in the story. Maggie is physically mute, but Twyla and Roberta both feel emotionally mute. This motivates many of the characters actions.
The idea of not being understood is a significant concept in Recitatif, and Morrison notes this by allocating the word from the sentence. Morrison uses a colon in a similar way in the sentence, “Oh Twyla, you know how it was in those days: black-white”(13). Race is another important topic in Morrison’s short story and this separation of race from the rest of the sentence indicates its significance. Morrison uses direct speech to highlight important dialogue. In particular, she directly quotes questions the characters ask emphasizing the significance of their speech. Morrison’s use of questions to convey theme is particularly interesting because Twyla states multiple times that she and Roberta do not ask questions and that is why they get along well. When Twyla first becomes aware of Maggie’s situation she asks Roberta “Or what if she wants to cry? Can she cry?” and then questions “She can’t scream?”(3). These questions are important because they not only expand upon Maggie’s condition, but also reflect the emotions Roberta and Twyla feel. They both take secret satisfaction in Maggie’s inability to express her pain because neither of the girls believe they can express their own pain. Both Roberta and Twyla have been abandoned by the mothers and do not belong to a family. At the same time, the orphans do not accept the girls because they are not true orphans since their parents are still living. Twyla and Roberta have been disowned in every aspect but have no outlet to express their pain. They are unable to scream and cry just as Maggie is unable to express her torment. Morrison ends her story with a dramatic question further portraying the importance of questions and emphasizing a societal view in overlooking the disables. At the end of the story, Roberta and Twyla accidently meet around Christmas time. At the end of their conversation, Roberta sobs, “What the hell happened to Maggie?”(20). The ending forces the characters to face the question they have been avoiding and also emphasizes Morrison’s argument that society looks over the people that make them uncomfortable. The use of direct speech communicates the emotion of the moment and increases the pathological argument that society cannot continuing ignoring that which it perceives as different.
Toni Morrison creates an interesting tale in which she addresses the problems of race and disability in society. Throughout the story readers are searching to determine which girl is of which race and in doing this makes judgments based on stereotypes. Additionally, Morrison discuss the marginalization of the disabled in society. She suggests that they are overlooked and can sometimes be viewed as not fully human. Morrison portray the dangers of this thinking and implores readers to ask important questions and defend against prejudice and abuse. Recitatif is constructed in a manner that draws importance to communication and understanding, as well as calls attention to the dismissed of society.
Morrison, Toni. “ Recitatif” Google, Centricity Domain, 1983,docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&pid=sites&srcid=bm9ydGhhbmRvdmVycHVibGljc2Nob9scyjb218aW50ZXJuYXRpb25hbC10aG91Z2h0fGd4OjE2OGQ5ODg4MTFkMWY4Y.
What Happened To Maggie?
The question of racial issues is a serious challenge even in the modern society as the norms and values which were created many centuries ago are not as easy to overcome as it could be. Toni Morrison in her work Recitatif depicts how two girls from completely different social groups become friends in the shelter but how their confrontation appears later in adulthood. Generally speaking, this short story shows how the perception of reality may be reshaped because of the racial prejudice and how cruelty appears because of the violence everyone faces during his life.
To begin with, the story itself should be summarized in order to understand the plot. Two girls, Roberta and Twyla, were brought to the shelter because their mothers could not take care of them. The beginning of the story itself shows this, “My mother danced all night and Roberta’s was sick” (Morrison 1). Twyla, the heroine which tells the story, mentions that they both started to communicate because they were outsiders in some way, and got bad marks for all the subjects. The story shows the particular misunderstanding between both friends when Roberta’s mother, seeing that Twyla and her mother are African Americans, refused to shake her mother’s hand. The story progresses to the adulthood when both young women meet on two different borders of their social and racial groups and have very few in common in comparison with their early lives. During their meetings, they both understand that their memory changed some of the facts about Maggie, a mute cook who was the victim of the children’s cruelty in their shelter. Furthermore, Maggie becomes the most significant part of the story as the women reveal a number of details about their own lives, too, and their perception of the world slowly reshapes.
Even more, the critical framework for the analysis of the story must be clarified. One of the best analytical texts regarding this story is written by Shanna Greene Benjamin and it is dedicated to the questions of the race the author raises in Recitatif. In particular, the key phrase which outlined the following analysis of the work, is, “if memory is so unstable, how can blacks and whites ever communicate effectively about the history they share?” (Benjamin 92). This contributes to the idea that the conflict between races and social groups exists, but no one really understands why, and what was the reason, and the modern values are irrational. Such statement develops the thought that Maggie’s life is a synecdoche to the global racial inequality and tragedy. The author claims that Maggie is the symbol of the race itself and that the changing of the memories in the human minds is so vague, then the conflict over race is, too, not clear enough. This leads to the logical assumption that society seriously influences the choices of the people and if cruelty and prejudice could be not the dominant features people often face, then the difference between races could vanish at all. Actually, the author shows that the hatred is senseless, and it has not any exact explanation, that it is completely opposite to the understanding of human beings. This leads the reader to the realization that, perhaps, the world is not divided into two binary oppositions, and that there are so many people who deserve to be loved and respected.
One of the key themes is dedicated to the way prejudice vanishes out of the borders in the community and how the prescribed roles make no sense at all. To specify, the story shows that both Twyla and Roberta were isolated even in their shelter and they were not accepted in the circle of their peers. Indeed, both girls did not have anything in common at first, but their bad marks and the unpreferable situation of the “dumped” children contributed to their further cooperation, “We were the only ones dumped and the only ones with F’s in three classes including gym” (Morrison 3). However, they both forgot about the racial bigotry outside of the shelter because their social statuses did not play any role for they lived in one room and had equal facilities. The first real difference occurs when Roberta’s mother, having Bible in her hand and behaving with a Christian ethos, does not want to take the hand of Twyla’s mother during the first meeting. This shows how the author uses antithesis where there are such things as Christian morale and racial discrimination are put into contrast with each other. In this case, it is created in order to show the bigotry and complete difference between the real meaning of a good person and the hypocrite. With this event, society, again, interrupts the flow of things without racism to which both girls were adjusted. The general mood of the story is tense and dark, mainly emotionally complicated and intensive. It reflects the atmosphere in the American society involved in mutual misunderstanding and unpredictability.
In addition to this, the story reveals the question of children’s cruelty which reflects their own vulnerability. Twyla and Roberta were excluded from the society they lived in, and even twice. At first, their mothers did not want to live with them, both for different reasons, and then the whole shelter does not accept them because their grief and loss are not so great as one of the others’ children who lost their parents. Being bullied by the elder girls, Twyla and Roberta realize that they have no one to tell this about, and observe Maggie as the one who is not protected and even weaker than they are. When discussing her in the case of a threat, they consider that, “‘But just tears. No sounds come out.’ ‘She can’t scream?’ ‘Nope. Nothing’”, and this reflects their own weakness and inability to protect themselves (Morrison 2). Because of this, they sometimes think they harmed Maggie because they both had a hidden wish of it in order to see someone but not them suffer.
As a consequence, the hatred both girls felt to their mothers developed further, but, still, they continued following the same pattern. In other words, both Twyla and Roberta were ashamed of the fact that their mothers left them, and this fear and pain never left them, being for them a scar for their whole life. Twyla felt that her mother did not pay enough attention to her needs as, “Mary’s idea of supper was popcorn and a can of Yoo-Hoo. Hot mashed potatoes and two weenies was like Thanksgiving for me”, and this is a hyperbole which shows her despair (Morrison 2). Despite this, Twyla had the particular common behavioral pattern when she had the son as she even did not pay enough attention to the changing of school for him though this could be a significant problem. As well as this, Roberta was ashamed of her mother’s bigotry, “I think she was sorry that her mother would not shake my mother’s hand” (Morrison 5). However, when both of them become adults, Roberta behaves typically of a privileged white woman who is not interested in real relations with the African American Twyla and laughed at her during their first meeting.
The argument above leads to the important issue of socialization and the way norms are being taught, not understood. It is evident that the girls became prejudiced due to the society they lived in. Both Twyla and Roberta saw the world from their own perspective, but later on, society became the key objective for their behavior. Here, the comparison with society as the stage and people as the actors should be drawn. The thing is that Roberta, living in the company of whites who are significantly richer than Twyla’s friends and family, saw her own bias as the natural one because of the common conflicts between the whites and blacks. Nevertheless, when Twyla receives such response, she thinks that the time of discrimination has passed and that people of all races cooperate and communicate without any borders. It appears that neither Twyla nor Roberta wanted to be the oppressor, and put the responsibility of their thoughts on the society, and they did not really understand its rules. Though Twyla is more mature from the racial point of view, she hid a secret tendency to violence and self-loss which was revealed to her by Roberta.
Finally, all the mentioned points above depict the real situation of Maggie and gives the response to the question “What happened to Maggie?”. Maggie was the woman who wore childish clothes, showing that all the old norms come back as the new ones. Her skin was “sandy-colored” which makes her both the foreign person for the whites and African Americans at one time. Maggie, the woman who could not protect herself, reminded both girls of their mothers who left them, and they could only hate her. Maggie is the symbol of race and lost childhood, and of everything which cannot cry when it is being hurt. Actually, the author uses simile when mentions that Maggie is like Twyla’s dancing mother and compares them both in their ignorance. In this case, such comparison is made in order to show the childish inability to analyze, and blindness of the unprotected girl who does not love her mother. Even the easiest details may be trapped in the human mind. If people cannot remember anything about Maggie, what did they know about themselves and the world they lived in if the memory is so vague? That is why, when Roberta was crying and asking what happened to Maggie, she cried for their lives, too.
To conclude, Toni Morrison writes her story in the dedication to the racial equality and unity which could be overcome. Maggie was a woman with no story, and the facts of her faded in the social dynamics and in the unhappiness of the abandoned children. The story raises the question whether it could be possible to destroy the racial abyss in the community. When talking about the future, who looks in the mirror and thinks about poor defenseless Maggie, the one who hides in everyone’s eyes, unable to scream?
Benjamin, Shanna Greene. “The Space That Race Creates: An Interstitial Analysis of Toni Morrison’s “Recitatif”” Studies in American Fiction 40.1 (2013): 87-106. Web. 25 July 2016.
Morrison, Toni. Recitatif. N.p.: n.p., 1983. Web. 25 July 2016.
Racial Dynamic in Recitafif
In Recitatif by Toni Morrison, the theme of racism is addressed extensively which is rather common in American literature during the late twentieth century. However, Morrison’s approach is fairly different from other literature that tackles the subject of racial prejudice. Recitatif is a short story about two girls who are raised in a children’s home called St. Bonaventure, but referred simply as St. Bonny’s, after their mothers are incapable of nurturing them. The story scales from past to the present lives of the two girls named Twyla and Roberta, who develop a friendship despite their hatred of each other at first due to their different ethnic backgrounds. The story addresses their struggle with racial prejudice even though Morrison does not overtly state their respective race, which leaves the reader to identify each character’s race personally. After the two leave the home and meet later in life, they find out how they have changed due to their different sentiments and outlook on past and current happenings. Morrison’s works are popular for addressing issues and struggles of African American people in the United States. In Recitatif, she addresses the association of certain characteristics with a particular race and the racial prejudices that have been embedded in the people’s minds. Morrison’s composition and use of imagery and allegories sways the reader into identifying the race of each character through their own stereotypes and prejudice: The racial undertones and remarks made by characters in the story establish that different races are contrasted or defined against each other in society, which creates labels that lead to a rift and racial prejudice.
Morrison’s Recitatif uses racial imagery whilst withholding the ethnic backgrounds of the characters in order to convey the dynamic between black and white people during the period. The speaker of the story, Twyla, states “…it was something else to be stuck in a strange place with a girl from a whole other race” (Morrison 1403). She confirms that the Roberta is not of the same race as her without the reader knowing their respective cultural identity. The racial tension and contrast have already been established in the story without the reader’s awareness of any character’s race yet. Twyla further narrates her racial prejudice that her mother told her how the other race had a funny scent to them from not washing their hair. The racial prejudice in society is revealed in the story through Twyla’s remarks of contrasting the characteristics of the other race with hers. She also remarks how her mother will not approve of the orphanage putting her in the same room as Roberta; we establish that racism was not frowned upon at the time and there was a rift between the races. However, this changes for Twyla as she gets to know Roberta.
Twyla and Roberta’s relationship changes significantly, as kids in the orphanage they develop a friendship, but later in their adulthood, they hold different opinions and views. Twyla says, “…it didn’t matter that we looked like salt and pepper…that’s what the other kids called us sometimes” (Morrison 1404). The statement indicates the impulsive need for people to contrast races against each other which only amplifies racial prejudice in society, evident through the hatred between their mothers. Later in their lives when Twyla meets Roberta again, Roberta and her friends treat her coldly due to their opposing social codes and contrasting ideologies. When she denotes that she does not know who Jimi Hendrix is, one of the friends responds in a manner that suggests Twyla is ignorant of the dynamic in the society. Later when they meet again, Roberta is friendlier than before and ignores their previous unpleasantness and blames it on the period. Roberta says, “Oh, Twyla, you know how it was in those days: black-white. You know how everything was” (Morrison 1411), further emphasizing on the contrast embedded in society. Nevertheless, their different recollection of Maggie’s memory further creates a rift and hatred between them despite their newfound friendship.
Contrary to Twyla’s recollection of Maggie’s memory, Roberta recalls that Maggie was assaulted by the big girls back in St. Bonny’s because she was black. Roberta states that Maggie did not fall down as suggested earlier but rather was a victim of hate crime. Roberta’s narrative challenges Twyla recollection of the event which is another instance of subconsciously defining their attitudes and identities against each other due to the idea of racial difference. Roberta’s stigma from racial prejudice towards black people in the past and present shapes her recollection of the narrative, blaming racism for past events such as Maggie falling down. When the two meet again at the protest their contrasting opinions becomes the identifying factors of their respective races; animosity further grows towards each other as Twyla generalizes black people and becomes racially insensitive. Roberta further adds to her narrative stating, “You’re the same little state kid who kicked a poor old black lady when she was down on the ground…and you have the nerve to call me a bigot” (Morrison 1413). Due to opposing set of social codes that are not necessarily racial based but rather opinion based, labels are created on each race which further intensifies the racial prejudices.
Twyla prejudice towards black people is seen during the protests, and her opinions of Roberta and Maggie become negative. She confesses, “I didn’t kick her; I didn’t join in with the girls and kick that lady, but I sure did want to” (Morrison 1414), which implies her change in attitude towards black people at the time and probably in the past too. Twyla develops strong racial prejudices as she becomes more active in the protest just to oppose Roberta. She narrates how her opposing signs got weirder every day even the other females thought she was a crazy, implying her relentless opposition just because of the idea of difference. Morrison uses the opposing signs between Twyla and Roberta in the story to suggest that the opposing sides coexist and one won’t make sense without the other. Twyla and Roberta’s relationship go through ultimate changes due to the generalization of each other’s race based on opposing social codes or association. The statement further proves that defining races against each other is the reason for the hatred and racial prejudice in society.
In the story, Morrison explores the idea of difference and the impulsive need for society to always contrast or define each race against each other. She withholds the ethnic backgrounds of the characters from the reader to illustrate that we can identify the race of a character through stereotypical remarks, which speaks a ton about the human race. The characters illustrate several subtle instances of defining races against each other through generalization; from the first impression Twyla had of Roberta to the opposing sides at the protests. In the modern day, there is no tolerance for racism. However, it is subconsciously embedded in every individual through stereotypes and prejudices. The goal of the story is for society to self-reflect and evaluate its association of certain characteristics with each race whilst describing them against each other, only when this is accomplished is racial prejudice solved.
Memory and the Possibility of Reconciliation in “Recitatif”
As humans, we experience hardships, in some cases more drastic than others, over the course of our lives. Subconsciously, we may repress memories depending on the degree to which they physically and/ or emotionally damage us as means to best cope with the situation. Toni Morrison’s short story “Recitatif” shares a story of two girls who found each other in an orphanage and, despite their racial difference, are able to form a bond established upon the nature of their mothers’ inability to take care of them. The young girls in this narrative are introduced to parallels of racism and stereotypes throughout their time in the orphanage to when they become young adults. Helane Adams Androne analyzes the protagonists’ involvement in traumatic mothering situations as revealing an absence/presence paradigm. From her take away, “characters heal from trauma only when they interrogate and confront the meaning of archetypal figures from their memories” (Androne, 133-134). However, the repression of memories beckons the question of whether confrontation can even occur following the manipulation of a memory. Memory is realized to be a misconstrued perception of not only what has happened in the past, but also provides a link to the present.
Toni Morrison’s subtle use of conflicts intertwining man, society, and race help to provide evidence of what happens when someone believes in things that are not in accordance with reality, using Twyla and Roberta as prime examples of the kinds of contorted memories they developed as adolescents that carried into their adult life. Toni Morrison’s “Recitatif” opens with a young girl, Twyla, narrating how she and another character, Roberta, had ended up in St. Bonny’s Orphanage and how it was not as bad as it seemed. Being the only ones assigned to room 406, the two went from bed to bed every night for four months, never claiming their own permanent bed. Despite the freedom and friendship they developed within those four walls, they did not have much luck when it came time to interacting with other children at the orphanage. As Twyla puts it, “we weren’t real orphans with beautiful dead parents in the sky” (Morrison, 140). Androne notes that “this initial placement together forecasts Twyla and Roberta’s future interactions, which will always be framed by their racial and class differences; this placement also identifies the connection between them (both have mothers who have abandoned them, rather than mothers who are deceased)” (Androne, 135). Although Twyla and Roberta appear as people very similar to each other during their time together in the orphanage, their separation is imminent. Upon being separated, the two female protagonists not only lose each other, but perhaps their absence from one another leads to distorted representations of memories of events they both experienced.
Alternatively, others interpret this separation or loss of one another as not being based solely upon the distorted representations of memories that both girls experienced. Terry Otten interprets the separation from their close, childlike union at St. Bonny’s as a result of racial encoding. One example of this racial encoding is found in the second encounter that occurs years later at the Howard Johnson’s restaurant where Twyla works. When Twyla reveals that she does not know who Jimi Hendrix is Roberta exclaims, “Hendrix. Jimi Hendrix, asshole” (Morrison, 145). Otten considers this remark as “exposing Twyla’s ignorance of the black icon of pop culture”(Otten, 58-64) . The conversation then shifts to the girls inquiring of each other’s mothers, “the characters [their mothers] who first expose the girls’ racial divide” (Otten, 58-64); it is Twyla who begins this process of confronting the differences between her and Roberta by “stabbing at a common, vulnerable psychological place, forcing Roberta to admit the pain in a grin [that] cracked her whole face” (Androne, 138).
A prominent source of contorted confusion for both Twyla and Roberta are their recollection of Maggie in the orchard, an ambiguous character who, according to other orphans, had her tongue cut out. More than once Maggie is described as the kitchen woman with “legs like parentheses” (Morrison, 141). The comparison of legs to parentheses not only suggests how Maggie is likely handicapped, but also shows that there is information about this character that is excluded from the main point of the story and from other characters as we really do not know much in depth about her. This also contributes to another saying, never judge a book by its cover. It is fair to say that Twyla was judging against Maggie when she said, “even for a mute, it was dumb—dressing like a kid and never saying anything at all” (141). Roberta and Twyla continue to wonder about Maggie, but talk about her without truly knowing who she is. For example, Twyla asks if Maggie could cry if she wanted to, to which Roberta responds “Sure. But just tears. No sound comes out,” harshly emphasizing the already known fact that Maggie cannot scream and perhaps she cannot hear, which would also hinder her ability to speak (141). They then try to get Maggie’s attention by yelling out offensive names like “Dummy!” and “Bow legs!” (141).
Otten remarks that the orchard where this interaction between Maggie and the other characters takes place is where Twyla and Roberta “realize, where they lose their innocence, and where in their silence they participate conjointly in a willful, if unwitting, violation. (Otten, 58-64). In this same sense Maggie represents the girls’ own lost innocence; they are not much different from her, in fact all three character’s surroundings appear to be in opposition of them. Yet, it is not innocence that truly binds them, but guilt as Otten reveal for which it also the first account of culpability [from Twyla] in the orchard.
For Maggie, Androne attributes language, myth, and imagery as archetypal figures of this character wherein Twyla and Roberta revise their perception and later memories of her in order to “transfer their anxieties and anger toward their mothers onto her” (Androne, 134). In that moment it dawns on Twyla that maybe they were wrong, and that Maggie could hear anything and everything, but she just never let on to it. Like their respective mothers, Maggie’s silence provides an apparent representation of the shared experience of alienation and rejection that Twyla and Roberta feel from their mothers that frustrates them. Androne associates Twyla and Roberta’s ineffectiveness of dealing directly with their maternal realities of absence and presence as rationale for Maggie functioning as the “intersection of their identities and their desire to revise their pasts to explain their present life” (Androne, 137).
When evaluating the absence/presence paradigm we see in the opening scene of the story how it is briefly mentioned that Twyla’s mother was a dancer and Roberta’s mother was sick, both of which serve as the reason for their absence. As readers, we can only infer what those labels actually mean for both mothers. Based on the context, Twyla’s mother can be interpreted as an exotic dancer or one who is not fully dedicated to motherhood, either emotionally or financially, to take care of Twyla. We can also infer this from the type of clothing she had on- green slacks that made her behind stick out and a fur coat, all the while “[she] was still grinning because she’s not too swift when it comes to what’s really going on” (Morrison, 143). Referring to Twyla’s mother as someone who “dances all night” is a way of saying she was not in tune with reality and her surroundings, the most evident example being the daughter she could not care for (Morrison, 142). For Roberta’s mother, it is not as clear as to what type of sickness she has. When her character is introduced, she is described as a big or really tall woman, with the biggest cross Twyla had ever seen across her chest and in the crook of her arm was the biggest Bible ever made (143). Perhaps Roberta’s mother carries around this Bible and reads scriptures to Roberta as a belief that she will one day get better, and that God has a plan for her life. However, given the frequency that Roberta is in the orphanage, she may not believe in her mother preaching such well wishes. When Roberta’s mother was introduced to Mary, she looked Mary and Twyla up and down and then stepped out of the line with Roberta. It could be inferred that the type of sickness attached to the mother was really not a sickness at all, but something deeper, perhaps a strong religious affiliation or affliction.
Within this time frame of being introduced to Roberta’s mother, something that stood out to me as symbolic was food. For lunch Roberta’s mother had brought chicken legs, ham sandwiches, oranges, and a whole box of chocolate-covered grahams. Notwithstanding the bulk of choices Roberta had to choose from she chose to only drink milk from a thermos. It would seem as though the dismissed food was symbolic for something else that Roberta didn’t want—to see her mom sick or even worse to see her possibly believing she might get better. Also, even though we are not entirely sure which character is black and which one is white we understand that there arises a conflict between these two mothers whether it’s based off of race or the difference in how each of them carries [appearance wise] themselves. Similarly Twyla mentions, “Things are not right. The wrong food is always with the wrong people” (Morrison, 143). Twyla could have been alluding to the struggles amongst opposite racial groups where some receive different sets of privileges, leading her to form this conclusion.
In light of alluding to struggles amongst racial groups, years later when Twyla and Roberta convene at a grocery store they engage in some old memories they shared together, one of which included Maggie and the day she fell down in the orchard. Roberta’s memory of how Maggie had fallen was due to the gar girls pushing her down and tearing her clothes. Twyla, however, does not remember it happening this way at all, but that she fell on her own. Roberta’s response to Twyla asking if she was fine was, “You’ve blocked it, Twyla. It happened” (Morrison, 149). In this case we see that Roberta is insistent on convincing Twyla that this happened the way she said it did. Once more we delve into the realm of race when Roberta responds to Twyla’s assumption of [her] acting as if she did not want to know her or be friends with her back at Howard Johnson’s by saying, “you know how it was in those days: black—white. You know how everything was” (149). From this context it is evident that Roberta distinguishes people as two separate and unequal entities. Twyla remembers that time period as nothing short of inclusive wherein there were busloads of blacks and whites who came into Howard Johnson’s together and were amiable towards one another. Fast-forwarding a couple months later, the scene opens up with Roberta picketing for her children to stay in the neighborhood rather than going to a different school. In this moment Roberta and Twyla find themselves in an argument surrounding the perceived belief that they live in a free country for which Twyla counters that by saying, “not yet, but it will be” (Morrison, 150). This is followed by the two’s back-and forth puzzlement of “I wonder what made me think you were different” (150). The dialogue in this portion of the story helps to re-instate the given claim that beliefs not in accordance with reality can lead to confrontation of opposing perspectives.
The inability to come to a concrete conclusion leads the two to form accusations against one another. Out of anger Roberta says to Twyla, “Maybe I am different now, Twyla. But you’re not. You kicked a black lady [referring to Maggie] and you have the nerve to call me a bigot” (Morrison, 151). Again it is never clarified in the story what race these characters are, but we only know that Maggie is sandy-colored, but that’s about it. It is later brought to the light by Roberta that she really did think that Maggie was black and because she could not talk she thought she was crazy. It is revealed to us that similar to Maggie, Roberta’s mother had been brought up in an institution and how she [Roberta] thought she would be too. This brings me back to my earlier point of maybe the sickness her mother had was due to a strong religious affiliation or affliction. She also confesses to Twyla that she was right, and it was in fact the gar girls who kicked her, even though she had wanted so badly to have done it. By the end the two are able to set aside their fallacies on other people, races, and society as a whole and finally see the reality of things and taking time to recognize Maggie, wondering— whatever happened to her.
Androne, Helane Adams. “Revised memories and colliding identities: absence and presence in Morrison’s ‘Recitatif’ and Viramontes’s ‘Tears on My Pillow’.” MELUS, vol. 32, no. 2, 2007, p. 133+. Literature Resource Center, https://galeapps.gale.com/apps/auth?userGroupName=mlin_c_clarkunv&da=true&origURL=https%3A%2F%2Fgo.gale.com%2Fps%2Fi.do%3Fp%3DLitRC%26u%3Dmlin_c_clarkunv%26id%3DGALE%257CA166564974%26v%3D2.1%26it%3Dr%26ugroup%3Doutside&prodId=LitRC &xid=713c1523 Accessed 27 Feb. 2019. Mays, Kelly J. The Norton Introduction to Literature. W.W. Norton & Company, 2017. Otten, Terry. “Toni Morrison’s ‘Recitatif’ of Race, Gender, and Myth.” Short Story Criticism, edited by Jelena O. Krstovic, vol. 126, Gale, 2010. Literature Resource Center, https://galeapps.gale.com/apps/auth?userGroupName=mlin_c_clarkunv&da=true&origURL=https%3A%2F%2Fgo.gale.com%2Fps%2Fi.do%3Fp%3DLitRC%26u%3Dmlin_c_clarkunv%26id%3DGALE%257CH1420093750%26v%3D2.1%26it%3Dr%26ugroup%3Doutside&prodId=LitRC C&xid=878961f4. Accessed 27 Feb. 2019. Originally published in South Carolina Review, vol. 35, no. 2, Spring 2003, pp. 58-64.