- Slides: 8
Toni Morrison’s “Recitatif” Eng 2 Honors
Story title: “Recitatif” The word “recitatif” is derived from the word “recitative” which has numerous definitions and could each be significant: a style of expression between song and ordinary speech used by performers during the narrative or dialogue parts of an opera. “the tone or rhythm peculiar to any language” anything that has the nature of a recital or repetition.
Context: Setting “Recitatif” was published in 1983 It is set in Newburgh, NY. The story is divided into 5 encounters between Twyla and Roberta that covers the span of different historical time periods, all of which saw notable racial tensions and shifts in culture within the US. The first period of the story, when Roberta and Twyla are eight years old, takes place in the 1950 s. During this period, Jim Crow segregation was in full swing and the Civil Rights Movement began. In 1954, the Supreme Court issued Brown vs. Board of Education, which outlawed school segregation. In 1957, the famous “Little Rock Nine”—nine African-American students enrolled in a previously white high school in Little Rock, Arkansas—were met with severe protests by white segregationists and eventually required the intervention of President Eisenhower to be able to actually set foot in their school.
Context: Setting continued… The second period of the story is set during the 1960 s, when Roberta and Twyla are young adults. The Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964, and the Black Power movement gained momentum during this period, particularly following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968. Meanwhile, the ‘ 60 s also saw a huge cultural shift, with the rise of a rebellious youthful counter-culture which was broadly defined by rejection of conservative social norms, progressive politics, and an embrace of “sex, drugs, rock’n’roll. ”
Context: Setting continued… The third period is when the women meet again in the late 1960 s or early 1970 s at a Food Emporium in Newburgh. Twyla mentions her son Joseph, and Roberta mentions that she's doing well and has a nice family. Both women have married. The 1970 s saw marginal improvements in race relations, but black communities still faced high rates of poverty and incarceration, which worsened notably under the presidency of Ronald Reagan, who was elected in 1981. School districts began assigning students to particular schools based on calculations designed to produce racial balance in those schools, rather than based on students’ geographic proximity to the school. Many families protested and resisted what became known as “forced busing. ”
Point of View/Characters Point of View: First person, from Twyla’s perspective “Recitatif” is a story in racial writing, as the race of Twyla and Roberta are debatable. Though the characters are clearly separated by class, neither is affirmed as African. American or Caucasian. Characters: Twyla: the narrator and main character of the story; she is eight years old when the story opens, and has been brought to live at St. Bonny’s orphanage. Roberta: the other main character; she arrives to St. Bonny's, and is Twyla’s roommate **The two girls are both eight years old, and one is white and one is black (though it is never made clear which is which).
Characterization The techniques by which an author of a work represents the moral, intellectual, and emotional nature of the characters. The art and technique of representing fictional personas which depends upon action or plot as well as narration and point of view.
The Role of Racial Ambiguity in Toni Morrison’s “Recitatif” Toni Morrison purposely keeps the racial identities of the two main characters unclear and it works to do the following: 1. TO MAKE THE READER THINK THROUGH THEIR OWN STEREOTYPES AND PREJUDICES 2. TO PROVE THAT RACIAL IDENTITY IS A SOCIAL CONSTRUCT 3. TO HELP THE READER SEE BEYOND RACE 4. TO ILLUSTRATE THE PROBLEM OF OPPRESSION