In the story Recitatif, by Toni Morrison we are introduced right away to two young girls. The only thing we know about them is that they are or different races and are placed in a shelter. The interesting thing that Morrison does is she never tells us what race each child is. Throughout the story it is the readers decision to choose who they think is which race. Their job is to notice parts in the novel that would set the races apart. As the reader your tendency is to lean toward stereotypical aspects that would define the girls’ races. For example we are given a chance to be stereotypical right in the beginning of the story:
“We were eight years old and got F’s all the time. Me because I couldn’t remember what I read or what the teacher said. And Roberta because she couldn’t read at all and didn’t even listen to the teacher” (pg. 1244).
This right away tends to make readers think Roberta is African American. This was because the story was written in 1983. During this time period many slaves could not read or write. This is the first assumption the reader would make but throughout the novel Morrison challenges us.
The next section where Morrison plays on the race role is when Twyla and Roberta meet at the Howard Johnson’s. (click for a quick old commercial of one of these restaurants!!) Twyla was working there and Roberta stopped in.
“”We’re on our way to the Coast. He’s got an appointment with Hendrix.” She gestured casually toward the boy next to her.
“Hendrix? Fantastic,” I said. “Really fantastic. What’s she doing now?”
Roberta coughed on her cigarette and the two guys rolled their eyes up at the ceiling.
“Hendrix. Jimmy Hendrix, asshole. He’s only the biggest—Oh, wow. Forget it” (pg. 1229).
Many would assume Roberta was African American here as well, but others would could assume she was Caucasian. A lot of Caucasians were huge fans of Jimmy Hendrix. It is another way of Morrison trying to get the reader to question the races.
Morrison deliberately left the races out. She wanted to show that people make assumptions based on people no matter what you tell them. Morrison wrote many other stories about these situations. Morrison is very passionate about who she is and what she has done to get to where she is in life. Below is an interview with her. She is a powerful woman!