Toni Morrison’s Recitatif
Toni Morrison works in the literary form of “postmodernism”, defined as a departure from ideologies or understandings that are representative of the “whole” meaning. Often, these kinds of works focus on personal, intimate moments with characters and settings, and do not have a surface-level purpose or meaning. Morrison’s more famous novels, including Beloved, take an Afro-American centric focus on the development of race in America, but exist in a place between reality and fantasy, leaving readers doubting their initial notions of Morrison’s intent. In her sole short story “Recitatif”, Morrison focuses on the intricacies of race relations as they developed through the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s, in tandem with the relationship of partially-orphaned childhood acquaintances Roberta and Twyla. Through specific moments in their lives, the reader is left to discover the function and identity of their relationship, and how the notion of “truth” and “trust” are not always intertwined.
What are Morrison’s reason and purpose in maintaining the reveal of the main characters’ race?
How does the organization of the story, split into five meetings between Roberta and Twyla, demonstrate the characters' relationship? (Note: attempt to structure and frame the essay differently than simply one paragraph for each meeting, as this often leads to over-summarizing and less analysis).
What is Morrison's purpose with Maggie? In their words: “What the hell happened to Maggie?”
While the story focuses on race, it also discusses social class. How is social class presented in connection to race?
What literary elements do you feel heighten the experience and understanding of the story?
Optionally, employ a maximum of TWO outside secondary sources in your essay to identify the literary purpose of Morrison’s short story and the way in which she develops her theme through the narrative.