The story “Recitatif” by Toni Morrison is about the times when racial discrimination was already not so frequently and vividly observed but when the color of the skin was still crucial for some people. The main characters of the story are the two girls, Roberta and Twyla and the ambiguity of their race is what the story relies upon. They both stay at the shelter which, strange as it may seem, they consider not very bad: “People want to put their arms around you when you tell them you were in a shelter, but it really wasn’t bad.” (Charles H. Rowell, p. 422). Twyla is the narrator of the story and she tells about the girls’ lives in the shelter as well as afterward. Though both of them are children united by the common displeasure – the necessity to stay in the shelter when both of them have mothers, a number of conflicts because of the difference in their skin color arise throughout the story.
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What should be mentioned above of all is the girls’ first meeting which started with the first realization of the girls’ being different. Roberta was already in the shelter when Twyla was brought there and by seeing a white girl in the room Twyla felt disgusted and disrespect to her at once: “The minute I walked in and the Big Bozo introduced us, I got sick to my stomach.” (Charles H. Rowell, p. 422) This is proof of the fact that racial views were imposed on the society by its members themselves as the child raised in the family of whichever skin color already had certain stereotypes regarding the people who were different. For instance, Twyla’s mother repeatedly told her that white people “never washed their hair and they smelled funny.” (Charles H. Rowell, p. 422).
Secondly, the conflict due to the racial factor arises when the girls meet some years later. Both the girls had changed by that time. Nevertheless, Twyla recognizes the friend of her childhood whereas Roberta, being ashamed of having a dark-skinned friend even if it was long ago, pretends that she does not care about her: “I was dismissed without anyone saying goodbye, so I thought I would do it for her.” (Charles H. Rowell, p. 427). Twyla had very unpleasant feelings after this meeting and she remembered this insult very distinctly. Though being kids the girls first felt an aversion towards each other they became best friends but as they became grown-ups, everything seemed to have changed. Later, discussing this meeting with Twyla, Roberta told her that she was ashamed to show her attachment to Twyla because her friends would not approve of her relations with a black woman.
And finally, the conflict which can be observed throughout the whole story is the situation with Maggy, a woman who worked in the shelter’s kitchen who once fell in the orchard, and none of the children being there, including the girls, called for help. Later, Roberta tried to prove to Twyla that she was the one who pushed Maggy, and Twyla who didn’t remember much of this story still tried to deny it after which Roberta reproached Twyla for remaining the same black girl as she has always been. At the end of the story the situation clears up and it turns out that Roberta was just lying to Twyla and in fact, nobody kicked Maggy, she fell by herself.
In conclusion, it should be added, that “Recitatif” is a story with deep sense and it touches on an important problem of race discrimination in the twentieth century. What distinguishes it from other stories on this subject is that it describes how the discrimination affected the lives of two little girls rather than the events which took place in that period of time.
Charles H. Rowell. Ancestral House: The Black Short Story in the Americas and Europe. Westview Press, 1995.