Toni Morrison’s writing style aims to involve the reader emotionally. She says, “my writing expects, demands, participatory reading, and that I think is what literature is supposed to do. It’s not just about telling a story; it’s about involving the reader. The reader supplies the emotions. The reader supplies even some color, some sound. My language has to have holes and spaces so the reader can come into it” (1225).
I think it’s interesting that Morrison refers to her writing as her “language.” A word I’s use to describe her work is “genuine.” Morrison writes the way she speaks. It is no wonder the reader can be so emotionally connected to her stories. The language is relatable.
Along those lines, Morrison uses the style of recitatif, which is also the title of the story. This style relates to that of recitatif in opera, in which a character sings in a thoughtful, speech-like manner preceding the aria. An aria is closer to what we know of as a song.
“It really wasn’t bad, St. Bonny’s. The big girls on the second floor pushed us around now and then. But that was all. They wore lipstick and eyebrow pencil and wobbled their knees while they watched TV. Fifteen, sixteen, even some of them were. They were put-out girls, scared runaways most of them. Poor little girls who fought their uncles off but looked tough to us, and mean. God, did they look mean. The staff tried to keep them separate from the younger children, but sometimes they caught us watching them in the orchard where they played radios and danced with each other. They’d light out after us and pull our hair and twist our arms. We were scared of them, Roberta and me, but neither of us wanted the other one to know it “ (1226).
As can be seen in this passage, the writing is quite fragmented. Sentences stop and start in places one would not expect upon reading a grammatically correct piece of literature. It does, however, make sense as it is speech-like in nature.
We are provided with new information upon each new sentence. This is certainly a technique that produces emotional involvement on behalf of the reader. It is gripping in a way that constantly draws us in and makes us want to know what is next. The short sentences also provide way to reel in our focus, rather than be lost in a long jumble of words.
Morrison mentions that the reader supplies color and sound. In this way, the reader can truly make a story his or her own, with his or her own thoughts and opinions. Morrison does not specify the racial backgrounds of Twyla and Roberta, but still makes it a central topic to the story. Upon making conclusions about race, in response to some of the stereotypes in the story, one can even learn quite a bit about his or her own thinking process.
ABC News special on the psychology of stereotypes:
Morisson aims to engage the reader’s emotions, yet the tone of her writing is so “unemotional” with blunt, short, matter-of-fact phrasing. Her language is anything but flowery. She does not tell the reader how to feel but forces the reader to feel something. I think that is big part of what art does.
I would say that this style, is very “take it or leave it”, which in itself is extremely powerful.