Critical Introduction

In our writings about Toni Morrison’s “Recitatif,” which was published in 1983, each one of us found a unique perspective. Each of these essays are done through a critical lens that helps bring deeper meaning to the messages that are in “Recitatif.” Some of the lenses include New Criticism and deconstruction. There is an ongoing discussion of how racism affected both the author and her characters, along with other potential struggles such as the need for feminism.

New Criticism

In Amy Stroud’s Essay “Why Maggie”, Amy discusses the importance of Maggie’s role in “Recitatif” for Twyla’s and Roberta’s journey as they face their past trauma from their childhood and Maggie’s overall role in representing themes of discrimination and victimization. Amy explores the purpose and importance of removing racial identifiers to create an atmosphere of self-reflection for the readers while having Maggie have specific physical identifiers that expose her disability to the readers. She also examines why Twyla’s and Roberta’s connection is deeply intertwined with their treatment of Maggie and how each of them approaches the situation when faced with the reality of their past actions and experiences at the orphanage. She concludes how Maggie’s role allows the exploration of the complexity of discrimination while not hindering the self-reflection of unconscious biases the readers face when reading and how Maggie became an outlet for Twyla’s and Roberta’s feelings towards their mothers.

Reader Response

Perceptions can shape how a reader views a text through their own personal background, culture, and experiences associated with race. Toni Morrison’s literary works explore the Afro-American experience, the meaning behind race, and the historical elements of societal boundaries. In her short story “Recitatif”, she demonstrates this through the complex interracial friendship between two girls who experience parallel stages of life from childhood to adulthood. The story takes place during the civil rights movement era, emphasizing racial strife as a major factor that shapes their lives. Morrison does not reveal the race of each girl in order to ingeniously expose the racial codes that the world and individuals confine themselves to. Therefore, “Perceiving Racial Inferences in ‘Recitatif’” by Kayley Dodd examines how racial speculations in “Recitatif” confront a reader’s own predispositions concerning racial identity.


In her essay, “Deconstructing Race in Recitatif“, Charlie Russell attempts to portray the push and pull of race and the dichotomy of class between the two main characters. The purpose of the essay is to show the futility of assigning a race to either girl in the story and to expose Morrison’s endeavor to make the reader acknowledge the racial biases that we all have due to history and society. Her aim in the essay is not to assign race but to point out the contradictions and tangles of what is a very real, although fictional, experience.

Historical / New Historical

In this essay, Phoebe Caringella discusses Toni Morrison’s impact on the world through her literature and the overall message that she has instilled in Recitatif. The author has garnered respect all over the world and uses her platform to deliver thought-provoking messages on the psychological trauma experienced by African Americans. The main characters, Twyla and Roberta, are both established to be from different races, but they are kept racially ambiguous by Morrison. This essay examines why she chose to use racial ambiguity and her larger picture of community, examining overall the purpose it serves to unite people. The story is set in an orphanage with a broken and fragile community fraught with psychological trauma from the discrimination present in the ‘60s and ‘70s. As time passes the girl’s friendship is torn apart by the disagreement about what happened to Maggie and frustration from racial tension. The connection between Maggie and the historic events becomes more apparent when the essay dives deeper into the reader’s perception coupled with those of Twyla and Roberta.


In “Childhood Experiences and the Development of Identity in Toni Morrison’s ‘Recitatif’,” Faith Cornell analyzes the short story “Recitatif” through a psychological lens using Eric Erickson’s theory on human experiences and exposures in various stages of life that determine how people develop cognitively. This analysis examines the adverse childhood experiences and socioeconomic statues of two children in Toni Morrison’s short story. These women, Roberta and Twyla, spend a portion of their childhood living in an orphanage, away from their distant mothers. Throughout moments in their lives, their actions demonstrate the influence from their experiences that shape their identities and strain their friendship and recollection of the past.


Racial feminism in “Recitatif” is an essay by Ryn Kowallis that tackles the idea that not all women have the same experiences in life but that all women deserve to have the same benefits. The essay broaches topics such as racial discrimination and how our perceptions of race can cause more pain and difficulty for women, how women’s relationships with each other can help strengthen perceptions or tear them apart and, that despite all that, women stand strong for their beliefs and can learn to be true to their own perceptions of themselves.

Each of these topics and lenses gave us different perspectives and windows into the lives that Toni Morrison created in her work “Recitatif.” But despite the variety of our lenses, we can confidently say that this was a meaningful short story. We were each able to learn more deeply what it was like to be a woman in those times, and especially what it meant to be a black woman. We all hope that these essays will help those who read our works to gain an appreciation of the story as we have.


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Beginnings and Endings: A Critical Edition Copyright © 2021 by Liza Long is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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