The treatment of race in Toni Morrison's "Recitatif"
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The treatment of race in Toni Morrison's "Recitatif" Nowadays, race is considered more as an ideological or social construct rather than just a biological fact. This phenomenon is visible in many literary works. Toni Morrison, who is against all literary racism, presents in her works a new way to read American literature and enables the reader to see the hard racial truths that it contains. In her experimental short story "Recitatif" she purposely deprives her characters of their racial identity and creates ambiguity by constantly oscillating between racial codes that might apply both to black and white people. Morrison challenges the reader's expectations and any solution that is based on stereotypes by first creating and then re-creating the characters' racial identity. Her aim, by doing so, is to make the reader aware of the racial stereotypes, which are often contradictory. Toni Morrison's "Recitatif" has lyrical and ironical undertones, achieved by such narrative strategies as allusions to race stereotypes, racism, perception of racial "otherness", reversal and indirection. She plays with the reader's expectations by many plot enigmas, language tricks and storyline gaps. She also encourages the reader to deeper engagement with the text and much closer reading. Such textual elements push the reader to solve the mysteries, fill in the gaps, and thereby complete the story. By participating in making meaning out of the text, readers experience the story on a much deeper level than they otherwise would.
That is why the reader may be inclined to perceive Roberta as a black fan of Hendrix. However, Roberta might as well be white because of the diverse audience of Jimi Hendrix's band which was an interracial band. Additionally, Morrison makes a point of letting the reader know that Twyla has no idea who Jimi Hendrix is. Again, this might suggest that Twyla is white, since most young black people during this era knew who he was, however, she could just be an uninformed girl, not interested in rock and roll. In the next part of the story, some years later, we are introduced to Twyla's husband's family. We get to know that it was big and loud and that "his grandmother is a porch swing". Such description of a family might indicate that it was an African-American family, hence the reader might assume that Twyla is black. Apart from that, she lives in working-class neighborhood and she is not very rich. That is another stereotype about black people that they are the ones who are lower in the social hierarchy and are associated with the working class. It is a very negative stereotype, which often does not have anything to do with the reality. In the same episode of the story Twyla and Roberta meet at a check-out line of Food Emporium store. Twyla describes Roberta as "dressed to kill.
The readers end up questioning their previous judgments and associations about race. "Recitatif" proves to be a noteworthy experiment which is "toying" with the reader's emotions and effectively noting racial stereotypes and their characteristics. In her work of literary criticism "Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination" Morrison shows how language imposes stereotypes in literary works of classic American authors. In "Recitatif" she gives clues about racial identity of her characters and consequently forces the readers to consider the usual ways in which race is presented in literature. The best conclusion of this essay is a fragment of "Playing in the Dark" which follows: "I am a black writer struggling with and through a language that can powerfully evoke and enforce hidden signs of racial superiority, cultural hegemony, and dismissive "othering" of people and language which are by no means marginal or already and completely known and knowable in my work. My vulnerability would lie in romanticizing blackness rather than demonizing it; vilifying whiteness rather than reifying it. The kind of work I have always wanted to do requires me to learn how to maneuver ways to free up the language from its sometimes sinister, frequently lazy, almost always predictable employment of racially informed and determined chains. (The only short story I have ever written, "Recitatif", was an experiment in the removal of all racial codes from a narrative about two characters of different races for whom racial identity is crucial.)" ?? ?? ?? ?? 1
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