Recitatif Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:
This detailed literature summary also contains Bibliography on Recitatif by Toni Morrison.
"Recitatif" is the only published short story by luminary African-American novelist Toni Morrison. It appeared in a 1983 anthology of writing by African-American women entitled Confirmation, edited by Amiri and Amina Baraka. "Recitatif" tells the story of the conflicted friendship between two girls—one black and one white—from the time they meet and bond at age eight while staying at an orphanage through their re-acquaintance as mothers on different sides of economic, political, and racial divides in a recently gentrified town in upstate New York.
While Morrison typically writes about black communities from an inside perspective, in this story she takes a different approach. The story explores how the relationship between the two main characters is shaped by their racial difference. Morrison does not, however, disclose which character is white and which is black. Rather than delving into the distinctive culture of African Americans, she illustrates how the divide between the races in American culture at large is dependent on blacks and whites defining themselves in opposition to one another. Her use of description and characterization in the story underscores the readers' complicity in this process. Morrison has considered similar issues in her book of criticism, Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination, which explores how language enforces stereotypes in the work of classic American authors such as Melville, Poe, and Hemingway. "Recitatif" may therefore be understood as part of Morrison's ongoing response to the mostly white and male classic literary tradition of the United States.
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Racism plays a very important role in this story, as Roberta and Twyla are of opposite races. When they are young, they think nothing of it, but they learn from their mothers what it means to discriminate. As they get older, they dislike each other more for who they are, and find it hard to feel sympathy for the opposite race when they are neglected. In the final encounter that they have with each other, we see a conclusion that is much like our own world today; no real ending of their horrible feelings towards each other.
Twyla and Roberta meet each other when they are just little girls in a state home for children without mothers that can take proper care of them. At this point, the children are quite innocent, and the only conflicts they have are silly ones. They see right past the other's race, but only learn what it means to discriminate from the older generations. As the story goes on, we see how each of them loses their youth, and with it comes their innocence, their ability to accept everyone as an equal.