Toni Morrison -- “Recitatif” -- Discussion Questions


1.) With Twyla and Roberta we have one Afro-American character and one Caucasian-American character.  (There are references to them being from two different races on pages 2253 and 2254.)  But which character is which?  And, how did you arrive at your decision?  What is your evidence?

2.) Why does the story continually return to references to the orchard and to Maggie?  (The initial information about the orchard and Maggie is on pages 2254-2255.)  What is significant in these continual references?  What are we to make of the confusion Twyla experiences in her memories of these things (for example, on pages 2261-2262 and 2265)?  And, on page 2261, Roberta tells Twyla one version of those events; it comes up again on page 2264.  Then, on page 2266, Roberta admits doubts about her own story.  What’s going on here?


3.) When Twyla says that she and Roberta had to discover “How to believe what had to be believed,” what does she mean?  Circumstances change and they change again: the late 1960s culture gives way to the materialism of the 1970s and 1980s, and each of these people is carried along and to some extent transformed.  Can you describe the connection between that general theme and Twyla’s emphasis on food and her interest in matching up “the right people with the right food”?

4.) Why does Twyla stay at the demonstration, carrying her sign, even when the disorder of the group has made her own placard meaningless?

5.) Is this ultimately a pessimistic story?  Or do identity, and friendship, show themselves as transcendent somehow, undamaged in their essence by change?  What details in the story help you to decide on your answer?

6.) Notice how the Howard Johnson’s restaurant is described as a “shelter” on page 2257, and that St. Bonny’s was also a “shelter” (page 2253).  Any significance to this?

7.) The headnote on page 2253 gives one definition and explanation for the title, “Recitatif.”  According to The American Heritage College Dictionary and the Encarta World English Dictionary, “recitation” and “recitative” are given the following definitions.  How might these help to explain, or continue the explanation of, Morrison’s title?

8.) Since at least the 1980s, Morrison’s work has defied easy categorization.  So, instead of beginning with possible connections between American Realism and Naturalism, what other narratives does “Recitatif” remind you of -- other works by Morrison or works by other fiction writers, dramatists, or screenwriters?