Toni Morrison, “Recitatif”

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  • #872
    Grant Glass
    Keymaster

    Toni Morrison, “Recitatif”

    #982
    abeach99
    Participant

    I found this work by Toni Morrison to be a great and insightful reading experience. Several moments in this reading stuck out to me. One of these was early on in the story, when Twyla describes Maggie. She’s labeled as a “mute,” and Twyla and Roberta call her names such as “Dummy” and “Bow legs” (3). This moment was interesting to me, because it emphasizes how people stigmatize those with disabilities. Although we have talked more about illness than disability in this course, disability is a crucial aspect of many people’s experience with illness. Seeing these characters stigmatize a disabled character, especially considering they are children, is insightful in how disabled characters are treated in society.

    Another moment is at the end of the story, when Twyla and Roberta are adults and they discuss what happened to Maggie. Roberta says, “I just remember her as old, so old. And because she couldn’t talk- well, you know, I thought she was crazy. She’d been brought up in an institution like my mother was and like I thought I would be too…I really wanted them to hurt her…I wanted to do it so bad that day-wanting to is doing it,” (19). When reading this passage, I thought about how people who are sick and/or disabled are often perceived solely as their sickness/disability. Rather than view them as people, they become their illness/disability. They are rejected by non-ill/able-bodied people because they fear the illness, and consequently the ill person.

    #997
    Iris Kang
    Participant

    This short story by Toni Morrison was very moving and eye-opening for me. I read Toni Morrison’s “Beloved” a few years ago and really appreciated its depth and complexity, but I also appreciate how this particular short story takes on similar issues of racial inequality through the lens of a different time period. The techniques that Morrison used in this story, including changing syntax and word structure to reflect Twyla’s changing perspective from childhood to motherhood, contributed greatly to her ability to tackle the constant issue of poverty and racial inequality in various different angles from stages of life. Furthermore, I really appreciated how Morrison was able to contrast the life experiences of Twyla and Roberta through each phase by recounting their coincidental meetings. Through these encounters, Morrison highlighted the apparent disparity between the two women’s life changes–two women who started with very similar experiences in a shelter but who ended up on very different paths. It really brought into immediacy how opportunities for improving one’s socioeconomic well-being (including health, jobs, security, etc.) are heavily dictated by one’s race. In the end, I think Morrison wanted to show that these two women are still at their core remnants of the girls who were inconsciencely trying to break free from the society’s unjust structural chains of racial inequality.

    #998
    Iris Kang
    Participant

    @abeach99
    I agree with your observation about disability and the character of Maggie in the short story. I think that it’s a particularly important part of the story that I initially skimmed over while reading through the first time. It’s interesting how you bring up the topic of how people with disabilities are often viewed as solely their disability. I think this is particularly true with Maggie because Twyla and Roberta’s perspectives only offer insight into Maggie through the lens of disability even though there is so much more to her experience in life and her characteristics separate from her disability that we cannot see.

    #1056
    aleks474
    Participant

    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.

    #1073
    sam01
    Participant

    This was a very interesting narrative with many complicated and recurring themes throughout. One of the most powerful notes in the work is the two women’s evolving perceptions of Maggie, an elderly disabled woman from their shared time at St. Bonny’s. Their perceptions of this woman are vital in shedding light upon some of Morrison’s main themes. In the beginning of the narrative, they describe Maggie as very old, bow-legged, and mute, and describe how they called Maggie names in an effort to get her to speak or cry, and how the older girls in the orchard had pushed her down and kicked her. The narrative explores this more in depth later, as Roberta eventually tells Twyla that they participated in kicking her. This, along with being told that Maggie was black, comes as a complete shock to Twyla, who wrestles with it for some time, eventually coming to two important conclusions. The first is that she honestly couldn’t remember Maggie’s race, instead recalling only her disabilities. The second is that, though she did not physically participate in kicking Maggie, she had wanted to do so. Later in the story, Roberta shares that at the time, she wanted to hurt Maggie too. It seems that Maggie’s disabilities had overwritten all other aspects of her identity, such as her race. In this happening, I believe the narrative shares some important insight on how it is easy for some people to view a person with a disability as an embodiment of that disability, diminishing their identity to only that.

    #1074
    sam01
    Participant

    @abeach99
    In my post, I also explored the aspect of how a disability can be used stigmatize and diminish a person to being viewed as the physical embodiment of that disability. I think it was very insightful how the narrative went about exploring this topic, and, like you said, how people with disabilities are “rejected by non-ill/able-bodied people because they fear the illness, and consequently the ill person.”. I hadn’t noted that in my response, but I feel like that is a major reason why Twyla and Roberta had felt so strongly about alienating or hurting Maggie, and I believe the characters come to this same conclusion at the end of the piece, where Roberta asks “What the hell happened to Maggie?” (pg 20).

    #1085
    Joyanne Terry
    Participant

    Recitatif by Tony Morrison highlights prejudice of mental and physical illnesses as well as racial prejudice. It was a really interesting story to explore; both Twyla and Roberta have mothers who are ill in some way; Twyla’s mother “dances” ceaselessly, while Roberta’s mother is just described as sick. It is not really clear how Roberta perceives her mother, but Twyla clearly views her mother with some disdain. As far as mental illness goes, this is a common theme throughout the story. She seems to dislike her mother and wishes her dead because her mother is forgetful and inattentive of her surroundings. It was interesting to notice that she makes the comparison of her mother to Maggie in that neither of them could really defend themselves against the cruelties of their surroundings and more importantly Twyla harbored such hatred towards the both of them.
    Another thing that stood out to me was the fact that neither Roberta nor Twyla could mention any defining features of Maggie other than her disabilities. Even though Roberta tries to make Twyla feel badly by telling her that Maggie was black and that they had participated in kicking her, she later recants her statement when they meet in the last scene. Roberta also admits that she had wanted to participate in kicking Maggie. The hatred that the both felt for Maggie likely stems from their own experience with the illnesses of their mothers. It was because of their illnesses that they had been left at St. Bonny’s, and they may have wished to take out the hurt they felt on a person they viewed as similarly afflicted.

    #1087
    Joyanne Terry
    Participant

    This is a really interesting viewpoint! My response focused mainly on the subject of disability in the story, so your statement is really eye opening. I agree that there are some similarities in the way Maggie is treated to how Twyla is treated. In the scene where Twyla’s car is rocked, Roberta watches; she does not participate, but she does not stop it either. She looks down on Twyla in the same way that they both had looked down on Maggie.

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