Recitatif by Toni Morrison is a story about two girls, Twyla and Roberta, who initially meet in home for children called St. Bonaventure, St. Bonny for short. At their initial meeting there are feelings of mistrust from both sides, but eventually come to bond with each other. We find out early that one is black and one is white but which is which is never revealed. Twyla was sent to St. Bonny because her mother “dances all night” and Roberta because her mother is sick.
Since they were placed there and are not orphans like the majority of the home they are considered outcast.
With this they become close and feel like allies against all the other orphans and the older girls they call “gar-girls” who are meant to them, and they share a fascination with a kitchen worker named Maggie who is mute and bow legged. Eventually after being there for twenty eight days, the girls’ mothers come to visit.
Twyla’s mother comes dressed inappropriately and Roberta’s mother comes armed with a giant cross and heavy bible. The mothers meeting did not go as planned and Twyla is humiliated by her mother’s reaction to being slighted by Roberta’s mother and her behavior in general.
The next time they meet after getting out of the home Twyla is working at a hotel and runs into Roberta. She is siting with two males and after an awkward introduction Twyla leaves feeling slighted by Roberta. The next time they meet it is a twenty years later and is the opposite of the first meeting. They meet at the supermarket and go out to coffee and talk like they have not been apart for all these years. It is then shown that Twyla is married with a son and lower class while Roberta is married to a widowed IBM exec with four children and is rich.
The next meeting is when they meet at a protest about bussing school children and school integration. Twyla feels harassed by one of the picketers and Roberta does not come to her aid. She then pickets for the opposite side. It is then that Roberta reveals that Twyla once kicked Maggie when she was pushed down on the ground by the older girls and that Maggie was black so Twyla had no right or call her a bigot. Twyla remembers differently and says that Maggie was not black. At their last encounter, years later, they meet randomly at a coffee shop while Twyla is out Christmas tree shopping.
Roberta wants to discuss her last comments to Twyla about Maggie. She says that the incident did not happen like she said it did. Twyla did not kick Maggie while she was down but she can’t be sure if she was black or not. They end the conversation by saying that their mothers never got better and that they don’t actually know what happened to Maggie. The issue is never resolved and we never find out which girl was black and which one was white. Over the course of the story one can make assumptions based on the respective girls’ actions.
At one point I assumed that Twyla was the black one based on a comment she made about Roberta’s hair. Then it changed and I thought Roberta was the black one based on her comments at the protest. This story shown how a person’s perspective is challenged based on certain stigmas. At the end of the story this is shown clearly by hoe both girls come to the realization that it doesn’t matter what Maggie was because all Maggie represented to them was their own mothers, and in that school black or white Maggie was at the bottom of the totem pole.