Reply To: Toni Morrison, “Recitatif”

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This was such a wonderful story with the themes of childhood, motherhood and race recurring throughout. Toni Morrison’s chose not to affirm the race of her characters – as a reader, I caught myself assuming Twyla to be black and Roberta to be white for parts of the story but then some elements made me question this assumption and their races switched in my head for a few scenes. Just as I made assumptions based on my expectations and prejudice, the two women in the story make their own about the character of Maggie, who seemed particularly important to this class. Twyla and Roberta treat other people as below themselves at different moments of the story and though race is mentioned only very few times, it’s clear it pays an important part in their perception of each other. They do that to each other from the start, when Twyla says “My mother won’t like you putting me in here.” about having to bunk with a girl of a different race. She also writes of wanting to kill Bozo and her mother, overreacting in a childish way, probably not knowing what her words would imply. Later it’s Rebecca who looks down on Twyla when they meet in Howard Johnson. This back-and-forth contempt lasts till the end of the story, reappearing in all vignettes. The one thing that brings the women together is the few months they spent at St. Bonnie’s, the most vivid moment being when they saw the older girls kick Maggie. In Twyla’s and Rebecca’s shared perception of Maggie her race is invisible, or rather it goes completely unnoticed when they were children and so they can’t remember it as adults. Maggie’s disability overrides her race and her belonging to that minority is more important to the two girls than belonging to a racial minority. In their differing perceptions of race and racial identities, Maggie’s race is not important in their shared memory. As children, they mock the old woman and view her not as a person but rather through as her disability and her body. I think that at certain moments Twyla feels like her experience mirrors Maggie’s in some ways, as she (being less well-off and secure) is now treated by Rebecca with the same disregard she treated with Maggie as a child.