Toni Morrison's Recitatif: A Literature Review


Toni Morrison’s Recitatif: A Literature Review

Tony Morrison continued her education at Howard. Tony Morrison has based the majority of his literary creations on racial prejudice. The sole short story by Tony Morrison that has been published is titled Recitatif. In the short story, two friends from different races (white and black) who live in America have a contentious relationship. The plot examines the important theme of racial prejudice and its effects on forming identities and relationships. This essay is based on an analysis and critique of Morrison’s short story Recitatif, which explores racial prejudice through the friendship between Roberta and Twyla.


Twyla and Roberta, two young girls living in St. Bonny’s orphanage, play a key role in the plot. The two girls are the main subjects of the entire narrative. The girls stand out from other children because, despite living in an orphanage, they both have mothers. They are deprived of their mothers’ affection and love. Due to personal issues, Roberta and Twyla’s mother are unable to give their daughters their full attention. Because they are not true orphans, Roberta and Twyla are not given priority at the orphanage. The bond between Twyla and Roberta and their mothers is tumultuous. Twyla talks about how her mother Mary instilled in her a prejudice against people of Roberta’s race. Twyla’s point of view is rudely dismissed by the orphanage manager. These two girls get along well despite their racial differences. The young characters of Twyla and Roberta share a lot of similarities. These young girls have experienced harassment from the older girls at the orphanage on numerous occasions.

Toni Morrison’s Recitatif: A Literature Review

In addition to these two girls, Maggie, who works in the orphanage’s kitchen, is another significant character. Maggie is described as an old sandy colored woman who is a disabled person. Maggie experiences various forms of harassment due to her identity as a disabled person. The meeting between Roberta and Twyla’s mother and their daughters at the orphanage is tense and unpleasant. There is a pause in the narration of eight years. Roberta and Twyla first met when Roberta was working on the Thruway at Howard Johnson. During the Black Civil Rights Movement, they came into contact with Roberta in an unsettling encounter. The story then jumps forward twelve years. Joseph is the son of Twyla, who resides in a loving family. Twyla is leading an average life.

Roberta, on the other hand, enjoys a luxurious lifestyle because she shares a home with her husband and four stepchildren. After a friendly exchange, they decide to get coffee. They have a disagreement about Maggie’s race and casting during the conversation. Roberta explains that She was acting rudely toward Howard Jonson because there was racial unrest at the time. They inquired about each other before departing. An encounter between Twyla and Roberta happens when Twyla’s car is attacked by protesters during one of their demonstrations. Roberta refuses to assist Twyla. Roberta and Twyla cross paths one final time around the holiday season. Roberta begins to cry as she expresses her feelings about Maggie’s precarious situation. Twyla shares Roberta’s sorrow and comforts her when she is upset. Twyla and Roberta’s reconciliation serves as the story’s climax. (Morrison and Lessing, Recitatif)


Numerous ESL textbooks include the short story Recitatif, whose title translates as “musical declamation.” The overall theme of the story is strongly emphasized in this title. Tony Morrison uses this title to empower and exhort all black people to peacefully advocate for themselves. All black people are being urged by Morrison to fight for their equal rights, democracy, freedom, and sovereignty.

This short story’s plot is quite murky. The plot’s tone and mood lean toward skepticism and confusion. The short story’s main characters are Twyla and Roberta. There are a few literary techniques used in the story. Morrison introduces imagery and similes at the start of the narrative. The way that Maggie is described as “an old sandy colored disabled woman” (Morrison, 98) demonstrates how imagery is used to demonstrate racial labeling and bigotry in society. Twyla uses the analogy of “like salt and pepper” to contrast herself with Roberta (Morrison, 160). Morrison places emphasis on the complementary nature of Twyla and Roberta’s relationship. The difference in identity between Twyla and Roberta based on their race and skin tone can also be implied by this comparison, though. With the exception of their race and skin tone, Twyla and Roberta are very similar. A strong contrast can be seen in Twyla and Roberta’s relationship. Due to the fact that Twyla is a white woman speaking about black people, she is an unreliable narrator. The ambiguous plot and lack of objective explanation make the narrator unreliable. Twyla is a young child with limited cognitive ability and knowledge. She was not given the proper nurturing by her parents and is improperly groomed. Twyla’s mother has left her in an orphanage(Stanley). She doesn’t offer an unbiased justification for the racial injustices suffered by black people because she is indifferent to the political and racial divide. She is therefore a faulty narrator, according to Rayson.

Toni Morrison’s Recitatif: A Literature Review

The short story’s two main characters are Twyla Benson and Roberta. The story’s narrator and main character is Twyla Benson. She is denied the love of her family. Her mother is unable to care for her. She consequently resides in an orphanage. Twyla’s difficult upbringing has had a profound effect on her adult life. She marries into an average family and leads a typical housewife’s life. She doesn’t show any bias against the black race or people with disabilities. She has an unbiased viewpoint. Twyla is friends with Roberta Fisk since their youth. Additionally, Roberta’s mother has left her at the orphanage. Robert and Twyla share the same childhood, but they aren’t the same as adults. Roberta is an interesting character in the narrative. She is racial and class conscious. She is always aware of the precarious situation. A A black woman with a disability named Maggie works in the orphanage’s kitchen. She is always being bullied by other girls. Many of the orphanage’s girls find her amusing. She has a bland personality and quietly bears all the pain others cause.

The main theme of this story is the problem of discrimination and identity. Twyla and Roberta’s friendship has an ambiguous separation or space between them throughout the plot. Five encounters between Roberta and Twyla throughout the story help to shape the racial differences in their friendship. These two girls’ racial divide appears to be insurmountable. These girls are not the only ones who are subject to national-level racial discrimination. According to Morris, the busing crisis is a prominent source of racial tension in the background of the story. When Roberta and Twyla first meet after leaving the orphanage, the story also foreshadows the context of the Black People’s Civil Rights Movement. Morrison’s short story (Morrison and Lessing, Recitatif) vividly illustrates the effects of racial identity and racial bigotry on relationships. From childhood to adulthood, the rocky relationship between two women of different races is a reflection of the racial prejudice in the society that the story portrays. Robert and Twyla’s viewpoint allows one to picture the racial divisions and identities that society has created (Knoflkov√°). The political and economic divisions between the two sides have a greater impact on race. The racial, economic, and political divide between Twyla and Roberta is represented by their differences. Twyla is leading a meager existence. Roberta, however, leads a luxurious life. Despite their racial differences, Roberta and Twyla express sympathy for Maggie at the conclusion of the story.

People’s identities and perceptions are shaped by the central theme of racial discrimination. The way that Maggie is described demonstrates how race discrimination affects identities. Maggie suffered unfair treatment because she was a disabled black woman. If she had not been black, the situation would have been different. Racial differences are evident in the relationship between Twyla and Roberta. The argument between Twyla and Roberta about whether or not Maggie is a black woman demonstrates how social stigmas have an impact on how race shapes individual identities.

Toni Morrison’s Recitatif: A Literature Review


The friendship between Twyla and Roberta in the analysis above highlights the idea of racial prejudice and bigotry. Morrison uses an ambiguous plot to demonstrate how race has influenced Roberta and Twyla’s identities and relationships. Morrison purposefully leaves out certain details regarding Roberta and Twyla’s race. Morrison gives readers a lot of room to think about and form opinions about the characters’ racial backgrounds. There is enough physical, social, and historical detail and context provided by Tony Morrison for readers to consider when forming their racial presumptions. In essence, by leaving Roberta and Twyla’s race unclear, Recitatif subtly subverts readers’ presumptions about race and identity. The critique of this short story highlights the unconscious stereotypes that are ingrained in our cognitive processes.


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