The Role of Race in Toni Morrison's Recitatif

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Recitatif: A Story of Friendship and Struggle

Recitatif is a short story by author Toni Morrison that is divided into different encounters between the two main characters Roberta and Twyla. These characters are girls of mixed racial background. Their experience and struggles in their upbringing make their friendship very deep. All their life, Roberta and Twyla are women who had faced similar hardships of life from when they met at St. Bonny’s at only eight years, and they shared the same roof.

Twyla's Initial Discomfort

At first, Twyla is not comfortable sharing the house with people such as Roberta, and this is because her mother had suggested people with her color having funny smells. The narrator of this story states that the two females are like salt and pepper because one of them is white whereas the other one is black. The only common things between them are that they were not orphans because they had no parents, it is because they were both rejected by parents that were still alive. The two girls eventually leave the shelter, go their ways and lose touch until in their twenties when Twyla is working as a waitress when she meets with Roberta who appears to be doing better than her. Twyla never hoped that Roberta would have a better life than her and she feels terrible about the way she had treated her in the shelter. The two later meet again, five years later, now Twyla is already married and a mother of one.

Differences and Reconciliation

On the other hand, a more reserved Roberta has two, and she asks Twyla to have coffee with her, but things do not go well as they differ on past issues. They only meet and reconcile later, during New Year and this marks the end of the novel (King and Lynn 132). Recitatif by Toni Morrison explores the aspect of racism and prejudice in the 1960s in the United States using the black woman and the white women’s real-life setting (Morrison 34).

The Author's Perspective

The author of Recitatif is an African American writer whose work majors on the challenging stories that are a representation of the current day society. She is highly recognized as a key player in expressing the issues that concern the position of women in society and racism. Toni Morrison is acknowledged as a chief player on the global literary stage as a result of her extraordinary insight into American historical interpretation in addition to her ground-breaking writing skills. In Recitatif, Morrison attempts to find out the involvements of these two characters of diverse racial identities. Nonetheless, she never replicates the race of these two women but uses a sequence of social codes that highlight the way racism may conflate with societal rank, undefined physical features, as well as societal customs, for example, eating various types of food at the shelter. Twyla’s arrival at the shelter is full of surprise when she learns of the strange place that she gets to share with other children with different colors. The narrator states that she is more disturbed by “a girl from a whole other race." She has a negative idea about people from difference at a tender age of 8 years, simply because her mother taught them, in fact, she is concerned about the race of the other girl that the fact that she is not an orphan and that her mother has abandoned her. What Twyla fails to understand is that she and Roberta have a lot of things in common. Both of them are at the shelter, yet their mothers are still alive, and neither of them performs well in school. They choose to respect each other's space and don't interfere with each other’s activities. Dissimilar the other "children at the shelter, they are not real orphans since they do not have “beautiful dead parents in the sky. They are the shelter because they have been neglected (Morrison 14). Twyla is at the shelter because her mother is a prostitute, the narrator says she dances all night and Roberta is at the shelter because her mother is suffering from a mental issue, alcoholism. As a result, the two are given the cold shoulder by all the other children, notwithstanding the aspect of the race. The author is simply saying that despite people being of different races, they are faced with the same social, economic problems and that a person’s race cannot decide their future outcome.

Examining Racism Through Recitatif

The relevance of racism in this story is up to date with the setting of the story, between the 1960s and the 1980s in the United States. Racism refers to the belief that people of a specific color are superior or better than people of another color. This is a subject that was significant in the American literature during the 20th century. Toni Morrison is effective in addressing the common inclination of being associated with specific features of every race by using the two characters to talk about chauvinism, social status and the impact of racial identity. The two main characters were brought up with the concept of racism. This was the same case during the 20th century whereby social ranks divided the white and the blacks. The whites viewed the blacks as slaves. The fact that the mothers to Roberta and Twyla applied the traditional concept of exposing their innocent children to racism is a good example of the current day society whereby no one is born with the hatred towards a person from another race, and they are simply taught (Morrison 29).

The Mysterious Nature of Racial Identity

Recitatif focuses on the aspect of racial identity, society, and bias. In this book, the author does a perfect job in concealing the real ethnic background of the two women, and the only clear information is that one of them is black and the other one is white. This is effective to the reader as they can analyze the central theme of racism without siding with any of them. Otherwise, if the author made it clear the white character and the black one, it would result in bias to the readers depending on the reader’s racial background, identity and perception of racism. The mysterious of these characters has a critical significance in this story and the racial concepts that are developed in people’s views and understanding. All through the story, the author illuminates the reader’s personal opinions and bias about race by offering clues that are contradicting on the identities of Roberta and Twyla. This is confirmed when they share a cup of coffee, and the illogical nature of racial identity is present in their argument, one of them asks the other one, I wonder what made you think you were different and better than the rest of us. This is the language of racial bias whereby two people have differing views about other and use other’s race to make a point. Maybe Roberta is mocking her Twyla because she considered herself to be of a special race, but currently, she is a waiter whereas Roberta seems to be doing fine. The fact that Twyla feels terrible about the way she treated her at the shelter is an indication of racial reconciliation. In reality, their mothers have failed their responsibilities of bringing up their children but dare to teach them about racism. At the shelter, Roberta and Twyla should be on the same side, defending each other, but the comments from their mothers increase the resentment between the two, its only decades later that they come to realize that they were misguided by people whom they considered as their role models (Carlacio & National Council of Teachers of English 29).

Racial Tensions and Historical Context

Recitatif is set at a time that is likely to evoke hostility and display the sentiments of most white people from the United States towards the black people. Vice versa is also the same, and the author uses Roberta and Twyla, both black and white to let the readers have a clear understanding of what African American were subjected to by the whites for hundreds of years the American history. Toni Morrison is similar to the real-life Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. this book was written at a time when blacks protested being treated as second-class citizens or as, and they called for equality. These revolts and movements saw some changes such as the inclusion of black students in public schools, something that angered the white parents. Morrison uses the five encounters of Roberta and Twyla to raise the question about the significance of race to society.

Works Cited

Carlacio, J. L., & National Council of Teachers of English. (2007). The fiction of Toni Morrison:        Reading and writing on race, culture, and identity. Urbana, Ill: National Council of       Teachers of English.

King, Lovalerie, and Lynn O. Scott. James Baldwin and Toni Morrison: Comparative Critical            and Theoretical Essays. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009. Print.

Morrison, Toni. "Recitatif."Skin Deep: Black Woment and White Women Write About Race.   (1995). Print.

November 24, 2023
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Literature

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Literature Review

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