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“Recitatif” by Toni Morrison Analysis


One of the primary purposes of literature is to deliver meaningful messages through artful images and plots. While some literary works may have a mostly entertaining function, some pieces prove to be seminal in the broader context of topical issues of society. Toni Morrison is one of the authors whose name will remain in the history of literature due to their immense contribution to societal discussions. Having experienced the direct impact of racial discrimination, she used it as a source of inspiration for her works, among which Recitatif has become the most influential one. Morrison’s knowledge and talent provided insight into the disparities faced by people of color across their lives. Subsequently, Recitatif was on the front line of literature and art, which changed the paradigm of social thought in regards to intercultural relations. The purpose of this essay is to examine the context behind Recitatif and its powerful message sent by Toni Morrison.

Toni Morrison’s Personality

In order to acquire an in-depth understanding of the meaning behind Recitatif, a review of Toni Morrison’s personal story may be instrumental. The author of the story was born in 1931 in a regular African American family with a modest income (“Toni Morrison. Biography”). Her parents worked hard to provide their four children with the necessary sustenance and ensure their development. Despite spending her earlier years in a semi-integrated area, Morrison still had to witness and experience the various facets of racial segregation of the middle 20th-century United States. Historical accounts confirm that discrimination remained a constant threat throughout her childhood and youth (Lee). As Morrison continued to develop her innate talents and enrolled in a university, she toured the American South with a theater troop, becoming acquainted with even worse instances of segregation. The disparities faced by young Morrison determined her future works and the meta-narrative around them.

Toni Morrison became one of the leaders of the progressive literary community, which attempted to draw the public’s attention to the issues regarding systemic racism in the United States. She pursued the academic path, which proved to be instrumental in reshaping the views of the younger generations in relation to the problems rooted in people’s mindsets for centuries (“Toni Morrison. Biography”). From the literary perspective, Morrison always wrote about strong characters of various cultural backgrounds. In her works, the author laid an emphasis on the personalities of these people, each of whom was defined by the traits of their characters instead of the skin color or socioeconomic status. Morrison promoted equality on all levels, and her struggle was recognized by the international community, awarding her a Nobel Prize, as well as the Pulitzer Prize (“Toni Morrison. Biography”). She also emphasized the importance of the liberation of all oppressed groups, drawing similarities between the African American fight for freedom and feminist movements (“Women, Race, and Memory”). The author’s biography and views are reflected in her seminal piece Recitatif.


The plot of the short story revolves around two friends, Twyla and Roberta. Originally, the two of them meet in a state home for children, and their relationship becomes stronger because of the similar circumstances of their lives. Their mothers could not provide for their children, and the girls were sent to the federal institution (Morrison 5). Morrison knew the hardships of children care in modest families, as her own family was never rich. However, she emphasized this aspect in her story, highlighting the fact that many people have more difficult lives than she did. Furthermore, Twyla and Roberta are of different races, but the cultural differences never become the decisive factor in their communication. This principle corresponds to the vision of the author, who always supported the relationships, in which racial identities do not play the leading role as compared to personal qualities (Knoflíčková 23). The plot of Recitatif is advanced not by socially ascribed stereotypes but by the objective circumstances, which can be faced by any person.

The story is divided into encounters, which illustrate how the lives of the characters change over the years. As the plot progresses, the fates of the main characters become highly different, which is reflected in their interaction. Roberta becomes wealthy and marries a computer industry specialist, whereas Twyle lives a regular life with a firefighter (Morrison 20). At some point, the differences in the women’s worldviews in regards to issues, which pertain to both personal and global affairs, become significant. They argue about the concept of racial integration through forced busing, as well the details of their lives at the children’s state home. When they meet again on one Christmas Eve, Twyla and Roberta finally come to an understanding once again and discuss the issues between them. Overall, while the influence of racial differences threads through the plot, it never becomes the decisive factor, leaving the leading role to common personal attributes.

Topical Themes behind Recitatif

The significance of Recitattif stems from a combination of powerful factors, which determined the story’s background and impact. Toni Morrison wrote a story about vivid characters living their own lives while avoiding common stereotypes. When discussing the story, Knoflíčková states that the author manages to shift the focus of the reader’s attention from the socially ascribed characteristics and prejudices (26). This way, Morrison increased the impact of her message, as the lack of emphasis on cultural differences actually highlighted the false nature of the assumptions behind them. Twyla and Roberta were defined by their thought, actions, and views instead of the external roles expected from them. Accordingly, they acted like human beings with their own fears, hopes, and aspirations. This model has contributed to the credibility of the story, but it can also be extended to personal relationships, in general. Morrison clearly showed that racial stereotypes are highly superficial, and she did so in the most artful manner possible by not devoting attention to them.

Recitatif possesses both social and literary qualities, which made it a seminal piece known today. Its inclusion in the general English curricula is important, as it contributes to the eradication of the invasive “whiteness” of the field. This detrimental concept has two facets, which complement one another. First of all, many non-white authors are ignored by scholars, despite the evident quality of their literature. However, even when their voices are heard, the discussion surrounding their works is determined by the racial identities of the authors (Barnett 27). Therefore, it is possible to state that Morrison’s plot in Recitatif reflects the extended context in which African American literature has existed.


In conclusion, Toni Morrison managed to send a powerful message through her works, among which Recitatif is one of the most important ones. She based her plots and characters on personal inspiration, following decades of struggle against discrimination. Twyla and Roberta reflect the positive model of interpersonal relationships, which are not defined by their racial identities. Recitatif made an invaluable contribution to literary diversity, while also contributing to equality-related issues in the broader context.


“Toni Morrison. Biography.” Biography, 2021. Web.

“Women, Race, and Memory: An Excerpt From Toni Morrison’s New Book, The Source of Self-Regard.” Jezebel, 2019. Web.

Barnett, Timothy. “Reading “Whiteness” in English Studies.” College English, vol. 63, no. 1, 2000, pp. 9-37. Web.

Knoflíčková, Marie. “Racial Identities Revisited: Toni Morrison’s “Recitatif.” Litteraria Pragensia, vol. 21, no. 41, 2011, pp. 22-33.

Lee, Alexander Kerri. “Toni Morrison.” National Women’s History Museum. n.d. Web.

Morrison, Toni. Recitatif. Pons y Cia, 2010.


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