HW Discussion (due July 7th)

Please choose a passage from Toni Morrison’s short story Récitatif that you feel exemplifies the text and write a short response. What did you think of this text and its place within contemporary literature?

10 thoughts on “HW Discussion (due July 7th)

  1. Shahnewaz Khan

    “Recitatif,” a story by Toni Morrison, is about racial identity, discrimination, and community. The story follows the characters Twyla and Roberta through their adult lives as they quarrel over their childhood memories of the past and discuss how politics are changing in the present. They take into account how racism has shaped their opinions and encourage readers to do the same. Morrison highlights race as a prominent element of the story by describing one woman as white and the other as black. Race is a major theme in the narrative, but not in the sense that readers may anticipate. Morrison makes it clear that one of the women is black and the other is white, but she never specifies who is which.

    During the argument about school integration, Morrison is able to conceal the races of Roberta and Twyla. Twyla reveals that “racial strife” had spread to the neighborhood where she and Roberta resided and that her own son, Joseph, was on a list of students who would be bussed out of his school. Twyla discloses, “Joseph was on the list of kids to be transferred from the junior high school to another one at some far-out-of-the-way place and I thought it was a good thing until I heard it was a bad thing” (Recitatif 1095). Twyla acknowledges that she initially had no problem sending her child to a different school. She believed that all schools were same and that there was little actual distinction between them. Twyla didn’t change her mind until she heard everyone criticize such schools. As the naiver member of the pair that consists of her and Roberta, Twyla is an illustration of how readily people may be persuaded by others. Even though Twyla and Roberta are arguing about the busing program, it is not clear what they feel about racial integration in general. Likewise, whether someone supports or opposes integration does not necessarily reflect that person’s race, especially when it comes to the specific concern of having one’s kids bussed to a separate school.

    When both Twyla and Roberta claims “I wonder what made me think you were different” (Recitatif 1096), it highlights the arbitrary nature of racial identity. This depicts the language of racial discrimination; both women have generally opposed opinions of the other’s race but assumed the other lady was different, however they are both mistaken. Moreover, the general feeling of racial ambiguity, as well as the fact that both communicates the exact phrase one after the other, reveals another conflicting sense of complexity. Out of context, the statement might be interpreted as an attempt at unity. In essence, we are the same.

    Furthermore, the races of every character are kept a secret by Morison. She presents conflicting information regarding Twyla and Roberta’s racial backgrounds, which frequently leaves readers confused. As a result, the readers are made aware of their own racial biases and presumptions through this. She emphasizes that the diverging cultures of black and white people are mostly focused on whites and blacks identifying themselves as opposed to one another, rather than concentrating on the specific culture of African Americans.

    My question for the class is: After reading this story, do you think assigning a race to Twyla and Roberta would be morally acceptable? Would you be considered racist?

  2. Alice Suazo

    From the start of the text, the audience is presented with the text highlighting the importance of race within this text. Nevertheless, the exact way in which race is presented remains quite ambiguous. In this way, the reader is encouraged to look at the wider problem presented within the text rather than the specifics. The text presents how Twyla expresses that “A pretty mother on earth is better than a beautiful dead one in the sky even if she did leave you all alone to go dancing.” (Morrison 1089) In this way, Morrison seems to mark out the importance of looks within the story. After all, this story is full of imagery that makes sure to describe the most prominent features within a setting and its characters. There’s no doubt that a young kid should not be expressing themselves to their mother in such a way, but they were raised in a way where appearances are utmost important—a place where prejudice is always present. Though the race of neither of the girls is outright said, there’s no doubt that their background and appearance had played a big role when it came to their individual and mutual development which highlights the relevance of appearances within the story. And so, when it comes to this text’s relevance to the contemporary era of literature, the connection between appearance and prejudice that takes place within the story is reflecting this era in literature.

    What does the choice of ambiguity of the races of the protagonists suggest about the reader and its bias?

  3. Midiam F Diaz (She/Her)

    “I didn’t kick her; I didn’t join in with the gar girls and kick that lady, but I sure did want to. We watched and never tried to help her and never called for help. Maggie was my dancing mother. Deaf, I thought, and dumb. Nobody inside. Nobody who would hear you if you cried in the night. . . . And when the gar girls pushed her down, and started roughhousing, I knew she wouldn’t scream, couldn’t—just like me and I was glad about that.” (Morrison 1098).

    This passage from Twyla after arguing with Roberta at the protest stands out because she is fighting to acknowledge whether she pushed Maggie down. What did it really mean to her? Did she feel bad at the time Maggie fell? Yes, but she did nothing out of fear of the big girls laughing at her. Would it have mattered if she were black or white? But now she is struggling with her own past as a human, treating other humans as if they are nobody because they did not speak or look the same as they did. She sympathized with the thought of her own life as she was sent to an orphanage, and she could not do anything about it. Just accept it and make friends with someone who was the opposite race from her. As she stated, “It was one thing to be taken out of your own bed early in the morning—it was something else to be stuck in a strange place with a girl from a whole other race” (Morrison 1086). Just as we struggle to determine which girl is black or white, we also run into this text that leaves us with questions as to why Maggie was such an impactful character in both girls’ lives from childhood to adulthood. Their history changed their perspective on social issues like when Roberta was protesting for the rights of children being sent off, and Twyla was opposing it as she felt all the schools were shitty either way. Roberts’s shift towards Twyla changed when she realized Twyla did not feel as passionate as she did. Whether it be political, gender, or race, our perspective on things depends on our history. Contemporary world literature gives us rational thought from our own perspective.

    Question: why was Maggie so important to Roberta and Twyla? why did Roberta change the narrative about Maggie being pushed by Twyla and say also stated she was black? What was Roberta’s motive you think?

  4. Joanna Tobiasz

    One of the passages that stood out to be the most was during the third encounter between Twyla and Roberta.
    “After the Howard Johnson’s snub. And no apology. Nothing. Were you on dope or what that time at Howard Johnson’s? I tried to make my voice sound friendlier than I felt.
    Maybe, a little. I never did drugs much. Why?
    I don’t know, you acted sort of like you didn’t want to know me then.
    Oh Twyla, you know how it was in those days: black-white. You know how everything was.”
    I think this is a huge turning point in the story and in their friendship. Roberta never saw color as an 8 year old “orphan”, but treated her harshly when she was around other people. Roberta wanted to be Twyla ‘s friend because she really loved and cared for her as person, but wasn’t willing to stand by her through racial differences. This is ironic to me because Roberta came from the same place that Twyla did but somehow thought she was better than her because of her privilege.

    My question is: Why do you think Roberta treated Twyla so harshly when Howard Johnson’s was already integrated with people of both races?

  5. Li Bin Lin

    “Maybe I am different now, Twyla. But you’re not. You’re the same little state kid who kicked a poor old black lady when she was down on the ground. You kicked a black lady and you have the nerve to call me a bigot.” The coupons were everywhere and the guts of my purse were bunched under the dashboard. What was she saying? Black? Maggie wasn’t black. “She wasn’t black,” I said. “Like hell she wasn’t, and you kicked her. We both did. You kicked a black lady who couldn’t even scream.” “Liar!” “You’re the liar! Why don’t you just go on home and leave us alone, huh?” (Morrison 1096) This passage is significant because it deals with the theme of race and it challenges how readers interprets the text, we don’t know the race of Twyla or Roberta as the author never specified, we can only assume. This passage also shows the reader how the characters argued about their past which happened throughout the text and how their culture background played a big part of their views.

    Question: why the author ended the story with “Oh shit, Twyla. Shit, shit, shit. What the hell happened to Maggie?”

  6. Arpit Sharma (He/Him)

    One of the most striking things about Toni Morrison’s short story Récitatif is how she handles race and prejudice. Throughout the story, the reader is kept guessing about the protagonist’s ethnicity. This ambiguity allows the reader to focus on the more significant issue at hand—how racial discrimination operates between black and white people and within black and white communities.

    Twyla and Roberta share a meal at a restaurant in one particularly memorable scene. The waiter brings them their food, and Roberta eagerly digs in. Twyla, however, is less than enthusiastic. She picks at her food and comments on how “the yams were runny, the pork chops dry.” (Morrison 1090)

    How Twyla interacts with her food represents how she interacts with the world around her. She is constantly on the lookout for flaws and things that can be improved. This vigilance likely stems from her experience as a black woman in a white-dominated society. She has learned to be wary of those around her, so she is always on the defensive.

    Meanwhile, Roberta seems to take everything at face value. She doesn’t question the yams or the pork chops—she eats them. This passive attitude likely comes from her experience as a white woman in a black-dominated society.

    This text exemplifies how race is an arbitrary concept often used to discriminate against others. The fact that both Twyla and Roberta are of different races but share the same feeling of not belonging highlights how race is a social construct that does not reflect reality. This is further emphasized by the fact that they both communicate the exact phrase, revealing racial identity’s arbitrary nature. Consequently, this reading highlights the importance of understanding race as a social construct to challenge discrimination.

    Do you think the use of parallelism in this passage effectively highlights the arbitrariness of racial identity?

  7. Eathan Wysoki

    Toni Morrison’s, ‘Recitatif’, focuses on the relationship between two girls, Twyla and Roberta. Moreover, the story highlights the ideas of race and discrimination. Between Twyla and Roberta, one of them is white and one of them is black. Both girls share several similarities; both girls attend St. Bronny’s, and they each have mothers who are sick. Morrison does a great job in his writing where he does not give away which is which. Another things Twyla and Roberta is the conversations they have about Maggie. Maggie is a girl at St. Bronny’s who is deaf and cannot speak, and she has “legs like parenthesis”. In the story, Maggie’s race is also not identified.

    “She just rocked on, the chin straps of her baby-boy hat swaying from side to side. I think we were wrong. I think she could hear and didn’t let on. And it shames me even now to think there was somebody in there after all who heard us call her those names and couldn’t tell on us” (Recitatif 1087).

    Tensions rise as Roberta and Twyla continue to meet each other throughout their life, and each time Maggie is brought up into their conversations. There is a conflict on whether or not Roberta and Twyla had pushed Maggie and abused her. Maggie is a symbol of confusion. The confusion on the relationship the girls have with their mothers. Maggie’s inability to speak or hear and with her parenthesis legs, represents the mother’s inability to help and care for their daughters, which consequentially leaves the two confused.

    Eventually the two don’t argue whether they abused Maggie or not, but whether Maggie is black or not. This serves as another form of confusion for the girls.

    Do you think the author purposely made the race up for grabs throughout the story in order to show that race does not matter? Or was did he have different intensions?

  8. Ali Butt (he/him)

    In the short story “Recitatif,” two young women named Roberta and Twyla share a room at a children’s shelter. Roberta and Twyla cross paths again throughout their lives even though they only lived together for four months at the shelter. The women are always struck by how different they are from one another despite having experienced a horrible childhood experience. “Maybe I am different now, Twyla. But you’re not. You’re the same little state kid who kicked a poor old black lady when she was down on the ground. You kicked a black lady and you have the nerve to call me a bigot.” The coupons were everywhere and the guts of my purse were bunched under the dashboard. What was she saying? Black? Maggie wasn’t black. “She wasn’t black,” I said. “Like hell she wasn’t, and you kicked her. We both did. You kicked a black lady who couldn’t even scream.” “Liar!” “You’re the liar! Why don’t you just go on home and leave us alone, huh?” (Morrison 1096). This part of the story was important since it showed racial differences and how the two’s cultural backgrounds played a part in their point of view. It also helped me get an idea of what race Roberta and Twyla.

    Question: If the author would’ve told us the races of Robert and Twyla do you think it would be more understandable?

  9. Anthony Funes-Quick

    “Were you on dope or what that time at Howard Johnson’s?’ I tried to make my voice sound friendlier than I felt. ‘Maybe, a little. I never did drugs much. Why?’ ‘I don’t know, you acted sort of like you didn’t want to know me then.’ ‘Oh Twyla, you know how it was in those days: black – white. You know how everything was” (Morrison 1094).

    Morrison’s Recitatif was composed around the 1980s, when drug use and racial bias was prevalent. This passage seems to exemplify the concept of the contemporary literature movement. The contemporary movement focused on literary works reflecting a society’s social and political viewpoints. This text seems to emphasize the relationship between different races. However, I found the dialogue to be confusing at times.

  10. Mohammed Dadsi

    This story was interesting because it exposed the reality of race relations through a different way than what we’ve read so far. It tells the story of two girls, assuming one is Black and one is White, and covers their lives from childhood to adulthood while highlighting the way they treat each other. During one of their final encounters, when they are now married, with children of their own, Twyla and Roberta meet and reminisce about the old days and their times at St. Bonny’s. Twyla then brings up one of their encounters some years ago, in which the two met and Roberta was very rude to Twyla. The two state “After the Howard Johnson’s snub. And no apology. Nothing.”Were you on dope or what that time at Howard Johnson’s?” I tried to make my voice sound friendlier than I felt. “Maybe, a little. I never did drugs much. Why?” “I don’t know, you acted sort of like you didn’t want to know me then.” “Oh, Twyla, you know how it was in those days: black-white. You know how everything was”” (Morrison 1094). This interaction shows that racism is truly a taught attribute. As children, the two virtually saw no difference between each other. They were very close friends and loved each other deeply. It is only until later on that one begins letting “everything” get in the way of their friendship. The difference between their friendship as children and that as adults is very evident. Roberta, now presumably a white woman, has let the societal beliefs of the people that look like her, influence the way she now treats a girl she once loved and grew up with. Racism is a very powerful weapon. It can and will penetrate the minds of young children and permanently poison the way they see anyone that doesn’t look like them if not intervened quickly.

    My question is: Why are there so many encounters between the two girls in the story? What was the author doing by essentially structuring the story around these encounters?

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