Writing on Women Writers

A site for college students to write about women writers.

Recitatif

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i hmorrison

Born on February 18, 1931, in Lorain, Ohio, Toni Morrison is a Nobel Prize- and Pulitzer Prize-winning American Novelist; she is also an editor and professor. Her parents, George and Ramah Wofford are credited for instilling in her a love of reading, music and folklore. Her novels involve vivid dialogue and richly detailed black characters. She was not fully aware of racial divisions until she was in her teens. She once told a reporter from The New York Times “When I was in first grade, nobody thought I was inferior. I was the only black in the class and the only child in the class who could read.” One article states, “What I am determined to do is to take what is articulated as an elusive race-free paradise and domesticate it. I am determined to concretize a literary discourse that (outside of science fiction) resonates exclusively in the register of permanently unrealizable dream. It is a discourse that (unwittingly) allows racism an intellectual weight to which it has absolutely no claim.Unlike the successful advancement of argument, narration requires the active complicity of a reader willing to step outside established boundaries of the racial imaginary. And, unlike visual media, narrative has not pictures to ease the difficulty of that step.”

Toni Morrison has become the name around which the debates of considerable significance to American literature, culture and ideology have amassed — these include debates about multicultural curricula; about the relation of slavery to freedom; about the possibility of creating literature that is both aesthetically beautiful and politically engaged. One novel she wrote, Recitatif, deals with the major racial issues prevalent in the lives of two young eight year old girls who live in the 60s until they reach their mid 40s. As mentioned, the novel, including two young girls, one young one black opens with them at an orphanage and then takes place at four separate meetings later on in life. Morrison, when using dialogue between the two, never implicates which child is black and which is white…that stays a mystery, although at some points one could take a guess which one is which however that idea formulated could change with the next meeting. Morrison invites readers to participate in a soaring affirmation: Life can be understood, she says, and it is beautiful, even glorious. In each of her novels, the individual finds knowledge, meaning, and faith in a clearly duplicitous world. Such affirmation rests on Morrison’s racialized and feminist self. She wants to strip away all the racist assumptions, not in order to study race but to look deeply at what remains, to see it in a new way that is fresh and clear. “In writing novels,” Morrison noted, “the adventure for me has been exploration of seemingly impenetrable, race-inflected, race-clotted topics”

As stated in the youtube video above, Morrison uses a particular device to make people question their assumptions and their stereotypes surrounding the fact that she does not indulge which character is black and which is white. She leaves it up to the reader to question that but in turn makes the reader question the fact that they are stereotyping that character in the novel based on preconceived notions of their idea of race. Some examples of racial stereotypes in the novel are:

  • Twyla doesn’t at first know what to think of Roberta, but Twyla remembers and agrees
    with something her mother has told her, that people who are of Roberta’s race “never
    washed their hair and they smelled funny.” (p.682)
  • Twyla: “I saw [my mother] right away. She had on those green slacks I hated and hated
    even more because didn’t she know we were going to chapel? And that fur jacket with
    the pocket linings so ripped she had to pull to get her hands out of them. But her face
    was pretty—like always—and she smiled and waved like she was the little girl looking
    for her mother. . . . But I couldn’t stay mad at [my mother] while she was smiling and
    hugging me and smelling of Lady Esther dusting powder. . . . and I was feeling proud
    because she looked so beautiful even in those ugly green slacks that made her behind stick out.” (p.684-685)
  • Twyla to Roberta – “Look at them,” I said. “Just look. Who do they think they are? Swarming all over the place like they own it. And they think they can decide where my child goes to school. Look at them, Roberta. They’re Bozos.” (p.1234).

Aside from these examples, there are many other examples from the text where racial stereotypes are placed.

 

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