Written in 1983

Written in 1983, by Toni Morrison, Recitatif was Morrison’s only published short story. Toni Morrison’s works focus on the modern African American life and racism, which is what brought about Recitatif. Morrison believes that writers and their readers tend to constantly assume that the audience and the characters in American fiction are white, unless told differently, which is the reason this short story was written. As mentioned, “Recitatif represents Morrison’s effort to challenge such assumptions… envisions the possibility of transcending racial divisions and embracing a common humanity” (Morrison 1173). She challenges her readers’ racial prejudice, which is the act of having a negative attitude towards somebody based on their race, but not based on experience nor knowledge, by creating two characters with undistinguished racial identities and giving them characteristics and actions that could either apply to black or white people.
The two characters of this short story, are Twyla and Roberta whom meet in an orphanage for children, St. Bonny’s. However, these eight-year old girls were alike in the way of how they were dropped off at the orphanage by their own mothers because neither of them were in the right conditions to take care of them. Unlike, everybody else in the orphanage who were there due to having, “beautiful dead parents in the sky” (Morrison 1174). Morrison does clarify to his readers that indeed Twyla and Roberta are from different ethnicities by mentioning that they look like salt and pepper. From the moment that Morrison makes that comment in her short story, the readers automatically start searching for characteristics and actions that can determine their ethnicity. For example, the first clue brought upon the reader is when Twyla mentions that Roberta indeed smells funny and looked as if she had not washed her hair, as her mother had implied. Automatically making the readers assume it is an African American, because of how much this characteristic is viewed towards them, although being a stereotype. Their mothers were substantial roles in viewing racial prejudice as well. When their mothers are presented in the short story, Roberta’s mother is described as big and having the biggest cross on her chest, which often imply a religious African American. However, I personally completely disagree with that stereotype. I do not believe in how the size of a person should define a whole ethnicity, because every human makes their body what they want out of it and everybody has the freedom to be as religious as desired as well.
On the contrary, further along in the story when years have passed by, Roberta and Twyla meet again and is introduced to Twyla’s family, whom appears to be a very loud and big family. We also learn that Twyla is associated with the working class. Sadly, stereotypically black people are known to be in the lower-working class along with other minorities. That description then changes the reader’s view upon the race of the characters, among the rest of occurrences in the short story. Maggie was also a character who’s ethnicity was conflicted between Twyla’s and Roberta’s mind and was very significant. Maggie was a “sandy-colored” lady who worked in the kitchen of the orphanage and got kicked, however was known to be deaf. Being “sandy-colored” one would assume she was white but Roberta believed she was black as she told Twyla. Twyla revolves around this thought so much because she did not ever remember Maggie being black, she would have been able to remember that.
Overall, Recitatif is a short story that causes its readers to reevaluate their racial prejudice thoughts and ambiguities towards the characters. Morrison did an explicit job writing this short story and implying different racial stereotypes that could be easily identified. I really enjoyed reading Recitatif because it is able to change one’s mindset towards racial stereotypes. I learned that one should assume ethnicities instantly based on stereotypes, but instead by knowledge and experience. I would definitely recommend this story to everybody, because I believe that if it changed my mindset it could change many others as well and help with our society’s racism.

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