Opera Of Power: Recitatif By Toni Morrison

1672 words - 7 pages

The haunting arioso pulses of the memories in “Recitatif” by Toni Morrison recount the intersections of the lives of two women of different race. Twyla, the story’s narrator, and Roberta, a girl of the opposite race, are dumped at St. Bonaventure, a state home, by their mothers. Tossed and held together by the bond of abandonment, the girls form a friendship that carries them through their allotted time at St. Bonny’s. One day, the girls witness Maggie, the mute kitchen worker, fall in the apple orchard, as the older girls in the state home scorn Maggie. Dissonance arises in their separate memories of the event because Roberta remembers that the vicious older girls pushed Maggie down, although Twyla remembers just that Maggie fell and the older girls mock her. The details of Maggie’s fall cause tension between Twyla and Roberta later because how each recalls this incident typifies their attitude towards their past. Unlike future interactions, this episode on the surface is seemingly unrelated to race; however, each subsequent meeting between Twyla and Roberta is characterized by race and economic status. Roberta and Twyla meet a total of five times with each presenting a conflict. The first meeting, when Maggie falls, introduces the distinction in the orchard’s hierarchy. The second meeting, where Roberta is unhappy that Twyla approaches her presents the difference between races. The third meeting, when the women, now grown with families of their own, run into each other at an upscale grocery, exposes the disparity between economic positions of the women. The fourth meeting at a protest of a school’s integration uncovers the variance in the women’s worldviews. The fifth meeting brings about the reconciliation of the two women, yet leaves the gaps of status and race between them. One of the most fascinating aspects of the story is that while the plot is full of racial conflict, the actual race of the two main characters is never fully disclosed, which leaves the reader only guessing about their true racial identification. The conflict between the characters in Recitatif stems from the human desire to have power over those judged inferior in situation, class, or race.
The girls are filled with the desperate need to find their fit in the power hierarchy of the orchard at the state home. The orchard is the scene of the fall of Maggie, and the cruelty of the older girls at the state home. Despite being different races, in the power ranking of the orchard, Twyla and Roberta are on the same low level because according to Twyla, “[they] weren’t real orphans with parents in the sky. [They] were dumped”(Morrison 2). The humiliation of their abandonment sets the two girls apart from the rest of the orphans. However, once in the orchard, the two girls did have power over someone: Maggie, who sported a ridiculous little hat and legs “like parentheses” which swayed when she walked,. Maggie represents a bevy of resentments for the...

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