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Of Readers and Racial Narratives Essay

Morrison explores the themes of fate and free will in a number of ways in the short story “Recitatif. ” Regarding free will and the constant confusion over Maggie’s racial identity, Morrison is making the provocative point that a truly color blind society would still have acts of cruelty and their agents, who will never be able to really understand their own motivations. Through the picketing scene, she also explores another dark aspect of free will: that mistaken assumptions about racism and racist actions can, effectively, poor more fuel over the fire.

The confusion over Maggie’s race also extends to the main characters, and the difficulty in discerning any definite racial identity on their part is Morrison’s clever way of drawing readers into the debate: after all, the arbitrary assignment of a certain identity to the two girls represents the reader trying to place a racial narrative on actions that do not inherently possess them. In doing so, the reader takes part in sowing confusion over race relations, and can more intimately understand how two life-long friends can end up on opposite sides of an ideological boycott because of the mistakes of the past.

Morrison’s main inclusion of exploring fate is in the similar origins of the girls—she explores two lives that started out similar and yet ended up quite different, and invites the reader to determine what part (if any) race had to do with this. Discussion question: in forcing readers to overlay their own racial narrative over essentially color-neutral events, is Morrison the provocateur illustrating the inevitability of racism? And if so, what role should color-conscious modern students of race relations play in moving towards an integrated future?

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