What is the relevance of the title in Toni Morrison’s “Recitatif? ” “Recitatif” is a short story written by Toni Morrison and first published in the anthropology “Confirmation: An Anthropology of American Women” in 1983. The author creates a pioneering story about the lives of two young girls, Roberta and Twyla, living in an orphanage during a period of racial inequality. Both girls had been taken away from their mothers, one for illness and one for indiscretion.
What makes this story unique is that, while the characters are clearly separated by class, neither is affirmed as African American or Caucasian. In order to address the essential social issue of that time, Toni Morrison presents five sections that span many years; the author provides a clear insight of inequality between white and black people. Moreover, with the publication of “Recitatif”, “Morrison raised issues engaging middle-class black women whose education and personal achievements create tensions within and outside of the black community” (Fultz).
A considerable aspect of this story is the title of the work. “Recitаtif” is a derivation of the word “recitative” which may be defined as a spoken singing style used in opera and oratories. A now-obsolete meaning is the rhythm peculiar to any language; furthermore, this word uses the root “recite” which also has special meaning. To recite, or to tell from memory, exemplifies that the story written by Toni Morrison was from a series of memories. Both of these definitions suggest the episodic nature of this story (Kusumoto). The plot is the key to understanding the meaning of the title.
There are five encounters that show what occurs when two people have contradictory memories about the same event. For example, when Twyla realizes that she and Roberta have completely different memories of a significant event, she asks, “I wouldn’t forget a thing like that. Would I? ” (Bakara & Bakara). Such uncertainty highlights to the main theme of the story. This instability of memory is expressed through narrative collage – “Recitatif” brings together the rhythms of 2 different lives for 5 short moments that are narrated by Twyla’s voice.
The story is, then, in several ways, Twyla’s “rеcitatif. ” The title of the story accurately conveys some changes in actual voice throughout the text; for example, when Twyla is a younger, it is obvious that the author “speaks” in a child’s voice. In some cases, it seems that this girl is too thoughtful to be the little child, but the author conveys her voice in such a way that there is no doubt that she is. The sing song voice applies to the narrator as well as to the nature of other characters in the story.
Radical changes are visible during Roberta’s and Twyla’s meetings; moreover, the sing song nature of race is also a part of the character’s makeup. Each of them shows clues that may be interpreted as rеpresenting a black or white race. That is why readers try to compare the various aspects of the story in order to identify the race it characterizes. This story develops like acts in an opera, presenting its characters at different points in life. Here is an interesting fact: the voice of the narrator grows with its character much as children grow throughout their life.
The title describes Morrison’s prose narrative and provides that the use of “gaps” is an integral part of this story. They are left out purposely by the author so they can be filled in by readers. In the first lines of the story it may seems that “Recitatif” tells a simple story about the interactions of two girls. Toni Morrison divided this short story into five encounters which describe the ongoing narrative events from the lives of these two women.
These interludes imitate the spoken singing style and narrative of the Morrison story implied by its title. The term “gaps” is suitable for this story because each encounter is separated by long periods of time that leave the reader guessing; as an example, Roberta’s reference to Jimi Hendrix at the meeting in the Hоward Jоhnsons. Before the reference, readers are certainly unsure of the time period of this meeting, but with the mention of this famous pop star, everyone can fill in the gap and realize this part of the story takes place in the 1960s.
In conclusion, it can be said that the title of Toni Morrison’s story plays an essential role in the story. It accurately conveys the style of writing and the use of different techniques throughout the story. Works cited: Bakara, Imamu Amiri, and Amina Bakara. Confirmation: An Anthology of African American Women. 1st ed. Morrow, 1983. Print. Fultz, Lucille P. Toni Morrison: Playing With Difference. University of Illinois Press, 2003. Print. Kusumoto, Jitsuko. “Memories of the Daughters from “Recitatif” to Beloved. “. 21-24, 2008. Web. 26 Feb 2013. .
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