In Toni Morrison’s “Recitatif,” the story is about two girls, Twyla and Roberta. They grow up in an orphanage because their mothers could not care for them. Morrison makes it clear the girls come from different ethnic backgrounds but never states which one is black or white. At one point in the story Twyla comments, “We looked like salt and pepper. ” I grew frustrated with the story and had to read it several times. I could never determine who was black and white and the lesson I learned should have been it doesn’t really matter.
The story begins with Twyla’s mother dropping her off at the orphanage. She meets Roberta and they become best friends. The bond they share occurs because they were not considered real orphans. They were abandoned kids unlike the other children whose parents had died. One of the last times the girls see each other was the day of a visitation. On that night, Twyla’s mother was wearing “those tight green slacks that made her butt stick out. ” Many people have labeled blacks as having larger butts.
She could have been black, she could have been a heavy white woman with a large butt, or a Hispanic woman like me. But I automatically stereotyped and went with Twyla has to be black. During the visitation Roberta’s mother “had brought chicken legs. ” Twyla notices Roberta does not eat the chicken legs. I always thought black people liked chicken more than white people which means Roberta was white since she did not eat the chicken. Or maybe she just wasn’t hungry. Shortly after that visitation Roberta’s mother came to take her home, leaving the girls devastated.
They see each other several times throughout the years. At their first meeting, Roberta was rude and distant because she was high. Roberta tells Twyla she is on the way to see Jimi Hendrix. Hendrix was an infamous black guitarist. I thought at this point Roberta has to be black. However Hendrix’s band was interracial with a diverse audience. Roberta could have been white due to the diverse audience. I am a huge Hendrix fan and I am not black so why would I think Roberta is. Twelve years later they meet again at a grocery store.
Roberta married a rich man and was extremely friendly to Twyla. Twyla cannot hold back her emotions and asks Roberta about the last time they saw each other. Roberta shrugs it off, “Oh, Twyla, you know how it was in those days: black—white. You know how everything was. ” I can relate to this. In 1980, the Cuban Mariel Boat Lifts came over bring thousands of Cubans. I am Cuban but I was born here. Kids I had known since kindergarten treated me as if I just come over on the boats. It had a lasting effect on me and matured me beyond my years.
The third time they meet is at the school where their children attend. Roberta and other mothers were picketing because they did not want their kids to be segregated. This led to a fight severing any last chance of a friendship for them as it would not be resolved until Twyla and Roberta meet for a final time. As the story ends I do not get a sense of closure. The question of which girl is white or black remains unanswered. It opened my eyes and made me question how prejudice I really am.
I try to not stereotype as a result of what I went through as a child but I found myself doing just that. I can understand why Morrison wrote the way she. I am not sure what her goal was overall but to me it seemed as if she were teaching me about prejudices. “Recitatif” challenged me to not judge either girl by their race but accept them for who they are. In the end, what difference did it really make about the girls’ races? The story is about how their friendship develops and then deteriorates. Nothing more; nothing less.
Courtney from Study Moose
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