Toni Morrisons 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 readers 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 Twylas 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 mothers 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 couldnt 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 Robertas 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 cant 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: blackwhite. 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 Robertas kids attend. Roberta and the other mothers were picketing because they didnt 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, Twylas mother told her that those people smelled funny because they didnt wash their hair. This might suggest that Roberta was black because many black people dont 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.
Twylas mother, therefore, could have been black. Of course, she could have been a heavy white woman with a large butt. During the picnic Robertas 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 laterto 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 1970s 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 Hendrixs 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 doesnt 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. Bibliography: