Recitatif By Toni Morrison Essay Research Paper

Recitatif By Toni Morrison Essay, Research Paper

Toni Morrison?s essay, ?Recitatif? is about two girls, Twyla and Roberta,

who grow up in an orphanage because their mothers could not properly care for

them. The underlying theme in ?Recitatif? deals with racism. An interesting

twist is the mystery of the girls? race. Leaving clues, but never stating

whether Twyla or Roberta was black or white, Morrison makes it clear that the

girls come from different ethnic backgrounds. At one point in the essay Twyla

comments, ?that we looked like salt and pepper.? Due to the fact that the

story is told in the first person, it seems natural for the reader to associate

Twyla with himself/herself. ?Recitatif? proves to be a noteworthy

experiment, ?toying? with the reader?s emotions and effectively noting

stereotypical races and their characteristics. Morrison never states the race of

the girls for a purpose: to make the reader form his/her own opinion. The story

begins with Twyla?s mother dropping her off at the orphanage. There she met

Roberta, who became her best friend, bonding because they were not real orphans

with ?beautiful dead parents in the sky.? Instead of being ?real?

orphans, they were just abandoned kids whose mother?s did not want them.

Although the girls had few friends, their lives did not lack adventure. For

example, they enjoyed spying on the big girls who liked to smoke and dance, and

sadly got a laugh out of yelling mean things at Maggie, the woman who couldn?t

defend herself because she was mute. One of the last times the girls saw each

other in the orphanage was the day of the picnic. Shortly after the picnic

Roberta?s mother came to take her home, marking the first small fracture in

their friendship. The next time they saw each other was years later in the

restaurant that Twyla worked. Roberta acts coldly towards Roberta partly because

she was high off of drugs, on her way to see a Jimi Hendrix concert. Twyla was

deeply offended that her former best friend would treat her so badly. Twelve

years later they meet again at a grocery store. Roberta married a rich man and

was now called Mrs. Benson; she was dressed in dimonds and talked much nicer to

Twyla. By this time, Twyla has one child and Roberta has four. Strangely,

Roberta acts extremely friendly, like she has met her long lost best friend.

Twyla can?t hold back her emotions and questions Roberta about their last

encounter at the restaurant. Roberta shrugs it off, ?Oh, Twyla, you know how

it was in those days: black?white. You know how everything was.? A friendly

goodbye and the women go their own separate ways again. The third time they meet

is at the school where Roberta?s kids attend. Roberta and the other mothers

were picketing because they didn?t want their kids to be segregated. This led

to a fight that would be not resolved until Twyla and Roberta meet for a final

time, severing any last chance of friendship for the women. The problem lies

inside the hearts of two special women, two childhood friends, and two different

races. ?Recitatif? challenges the reader to not be judgmental toward of the

either girls and accept their color. Morrison gives clues to encourage the

reader to make assumptions about the girls? race. From the beginning the

author asserts that one girl is black and one is white, but not which is which.

There are many instances that Morrison uses things that are stereotypically

?black? or ?white,? almost begging one to infer the race of each girl.

Although there is no answer to the mystery, what one decides for himself/herself

says something about his/her own ethnic background. Morrison thrives off the

stereotypes people have set for blacks and whites. For example, Twyla?s mother

told her that ?those? people smelled funny because they didn?t wash their

hair. This might suggest that Roberta was black because many black people

don?t wash their hair often. On the other hand she could have been talking

about the orphans not bathing properly which could cause them to smell

?funny.? Everything seems to be a gray area. On the night of the picnic when

her mother came to visit, Twyla was embarrassed because her mother was wearing

?those tight green slacks that made her butt stick out.? Many people have

labeled blacks as generally having larger behinds then whites, so Morrison may

have had this sort of implication in mind. Twyla?s mother, therefore, could

have been black. Of course, she could have been a heavy white woman with a large

?butt.? During the picnic Roberta?s mother ?had brought chicken legs and

ham sandwiches and oranges and a whole box of chocolate-covered grahams. Roberta

drank milk from a thermos while her mother read the bible to her.? Twyla

notices the chicken legs not being eaten. She later states, ?The wrong food is

always with the wrong people, maybe that is why I got into waitress work

later?to match the right food up with the right people. Some people have said

that black people seem to like chicken more than white people, which would imply

that Twyla is black due to how upset she was about the wasted chicken. Then

again not all black people like chicken and Twyla may have also just been hungry

for chicken at the time. When they met at the restaurant that Twyla works at

Roberta was rude and distant. At the restaurant Roberta was accompanied by two

other men. Twyla mentions that ?her hair was so big and wild I could hardly

see her face.? However she did recognize her. The fact that her hair was big

and wild like an Afro could indicate that she was black because blacks sometimes

have ?big? hair. However, the time period of the story is the 1970?s and

the Afro was a common hairstyle, meaning that any one could have worn their hair

that way. Also while they were at the restaurant, Roberta tells Twyla that she

is on the way to see Hendrix. Jimi Hendrix was an infamous black guitarist. The

reader might be lead to believe that Roberta is black because she was a Hendrix

?groupie.? However Jimi Hendrix?s band was an interracial band with a very

diverse audience. Therefore, Roberta may have been white due to the diverse

audience. As the story ends it doesn?t give the reader a sense of closure

because there is still a question of which girl is white or which is black.

Because of this uneasiness that the reader feels it is proof that race is

important to the reader.


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