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Recitatif and The old men used to dance are two short stories that both reflect on how past decisions affect one’s future. Both of the authors find unique techniques to express their ideas.
In Stewart’s story, we can find a heterodiegetic narrator. The author tells us the story in the third person and he does not take part in the story world. We can see an example of third-person narration from the very beginning of the story: “Now that Simon is retired” (John Stewart, 508).
Furthermore, the narrator shares details about the thoughts and the emotional states of the main character. This technique can lead us to think that the narrator is also omniscient. We can find an example of this in the following passage: “Now, since he has toured in Vancouver and Toronto, Hollywood, and Albuquerque New Mexico, his feelings have changed.” (John Stewart, 508). On the other hand, Toni Morrison’s story has a homodiegetic narrator. Twyla, one of the protagonists is telling the story in first-person narration.
A passage reflecting this fact is the following: ” Roberta must have thought I meant that my mother would be mad about my being put in the shelter.” (Toni Morrison, 201).
When it comes to focalization, we can see a noticeable difference between the texts. In Stewart’s story, the zero focalization makes its presence. The narrator has an omniscient point of view and knows more than the characters. In Morrison’s story, on the other hand, we can find an internal focalization.
The readers can perceive the actions only through Twyla’s eyes. She shares her own personal opinion and therefore the readers have the same limited understanding as her.
The choice of narration in both of the stories has different effects. In Stewart’s story, we can find a heterodiegetic narrator with an omniscient point of view. This type of narrator usually has a more impartial and honest point of view. As well, this type of narrator has a full understanding of the characters and circumstances and therefore can offer more information about everything. In Recitatif, a homodiegetic narrator is present. That means that the readers receive information that is seen only through the eyes of the narrator. Their understanding of facts is based on what they know from the narrator. However, this type of narration can have some issues. What if the narrator is not reliable? In this particular story, we can see that Twyla is trying to be honest but she can’t remember certain things properly: “Roberta had messed up my past somehow with that business about Maggie. I wouldn’t forget a thing like that. Would I?” (Toni Morrison, 210).
When it comes to characterization in Stewart’s story there is one major character called Simon. He is a retired teacher from the Miami district who originally comes from Trinidad. ” When he drove around Miami going from school to school teaching, coaching, demonstrating how to play the steel pan, he dearly loved everything about Trinidad” (John Stewart, 508). From this passage, we can see the protagonist’s love for his country. Unfortunately, later on his feelings change. During the story, we can notice the protagonist’s passion for streets and this is the main reason why he starts feeling ashamed of his country as the streets from his homeland are really damaged in comparison to the ones abroad. The protagonist is constructed through the explanatory characterization as he is described by the narrator. As well, Simon has a dynamic character as he takes action instead of using language. In the end of the story, the protagonist doesn’t feel connected with his culture anymore.
In Morrison’s short story we can find two main characters that represent racism and segregation. Twyla is one of the protagonists in this story. She spent her childhood in an orphanage because her mother left her there as she was busy and “danced all night” (Toni Morrison, 201). The other main character in this story is Roberta. She was a friend of Twyla and they have spent some time together in the orphanage. The two main characters cannot exist one without another as they have a common past that continues to link them even in the future. The girls shared some painful moments during their stay at Saint Bonny’s: “Sure it is” In the orchard. Remember how scared we were?” (Toni Morrison, 209). Even though the characters can be considered round as they are multi-layered, they also represent a group in society, therefore, they can be considered flat as well. Morrison uses the technique of showing in this story mainly through the character Twyla and her journey of discovery. The characters are black and white and after being raised in an orphanage for a period of time now live in a small town of Newburgh. Through racial differences, the characters make different choices that lead them in different directions.
When it comes to the themes of these stories we can find some similarities. The Old Men Used to Dance is a story of a retired teacher returning back home. The theme presents how cultural aspects can change drastically through time. This story shows the change of heart of a man that comes back to his homeland and finds an unfamiliar place: “Hungry for sweet life after all the false and shallow hurried-up living done abroad.” (John Stewart, 511). Unfortunately, he finds out that Trinidad is different: “Motor car changed all that” Streets were made for walking, for the bicycle, for a time when the country was a more friendly place.” (John Stewart, 510). In the end, the protagonist feels like he does not have a culture anymore.
Recitatif is a story about racism. We can find the first example of racism in Twyla’s response to rooming with Roberta at St. Bonny’s: “Roberta must have thought I meant that my mother would be mad about my being put in the shelter. Not about rooming with her, because as soon as Bozo left she came over to me and said, /is your mother sick too?” (Toni Morrison, 201)
Another theme that is present in the story is friendship. The story presents the ups and downs of Roberta and Twyla’s friendship. Throughout the narrative, we can see how painful situations unite the girls but also how racial matters separate them.
We can find a similarity in both the stories in the character’s wish to go back in the past and do things differently. Simon wishes to go back in the past when his homeland was unchanged and welcoming: “He had two solos, one for Gregory and one for the boy who had never left this town.” (John Stewart, 512). Twyla and Roberta also regret some aspects from the past and wish they would have done things differently: “We were kids, Roberta” She wiped her cheeks with the heel of her hand and smiled.” (Toni Morrison, 214)
To sum up, it can be said that both of the literary works, Recitatif and The old men used to dance are written in such a way that can be interpreted to be masterpieces. The authors have succeeded to touch themes such as, racism, friendship, culture change and industrialization and present them in a remarkable way.
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