Recitatif is a less commonly known short story by Toni Morrison released in 1983, which quickly became a favorite of mine. It centers around two characters, Twyla and Roberta whose paths cross at a young age due to unfortunate circumstances. Both share mothers who are unable to care for them, which lands them in the same shelter.
The short story follows the girl’s journeys through life but leaves the reader questioning whether or not to rely on the character’s view of the world.
The characters share minimal characteristics and serve quite like mirror images for each other, the most forthright difference being their color. Morrison states that one girl is white and one is black but does not provide concrete evidence of the difference which creates a new experience for the reader.
The omission of the answer is a tool used by Morrison to get the reader to realize and reflect on their own need to label and categorize. It provokes the reader to assume or guess consistently throughout the story, which presents several questions:
What makes someone white or black (besides the obvious)? Should we uphold stereotypes about that, and if so, is it more helpful or harmful? How would knowing the answer change the reader’s perception of the story or characterization? Why is it that a shift away from race brings it further into the light, perhaps because we all are so conscious of it?
Morrison uses her characters to embody complex subjects that make her reader’s think. These include but are not limited to the societal expectations of women, culture, and respectability politics.
I found the short story to be an interesting read and conceptually fresh. It made me analyze myself as a reader and challenged my ideas on how I write. Although it is not one of Morrison’s most popular works I do think it is an important read.