How is the final discussion between Twyla and Roberta about their mothers different from how they see their mothers after the girls leave St. Bonny's, in Toni Morrison's "Recitatif?"

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booboosmoosh's profile pic

booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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The two girls in Toni Morrison's "Recitatif," are very different. First, Roberta is white and Twyla is black. They are the same because at St. Bonny's:

We were dumped.

Roberta's mother was sick. Twyla's mother...

...danced all night.

Eventually, however, they find a commonality draws them together.

When the mothers come to visit, the girls get excited believing that the mothers meeting will be good for both women.

I thought if my dancing mother met her sick mother it might be good for her. And Roberta thought her sick mother would get a big bang out of a dancing one.

At this point, it is not easy to see differences between Twyla and Roberta, but it is quite obvious to see the cultural disparities by comparing the mothers and their behaviors. Tywla sees her mother in the crowd:

I saw Mary right away. She had on those green slacks I hated and hated even more now because didn't she know we were going to chapel? And that fur jacket with the pocket linings so ripped she had to pull to get her hands out of them. But her face was pretty-like always, and she smiled and waved like she was the little girl looking for her mother—not me.

Things seem to be going well until Roberta brings her mother over to for introductions:

Then Roberta said, "Mother, I want you to meet my roommate, Twyla. And that's Twyla's mother."

I looked up it seemed for miles. She was big. Bigger than any man and on her chest was the biggest cross I'd ever seen. I swear it was six inches long each way. And in the crook of her arm was the biggest Bible ever made.

Mary, simple-minded as ever, grinned and tried to yank her hand out of the pocket with the raggedy lining-to shake hands, I guess. Roberta's mother looked down at me and then looked down at Mary too. She didn't say anything, just grabbed Roberta with her Bible-free hand and stepped tout of line, walking quickly to the rear of it. Mary was still grinning because she's not too swift when it comes to what's really going on.

The girls eventually leave St. Bonny's, and meet on several occasions. The differences their mothers had noticed that had previously escaped the girls, Twyla and Roberta now seem very much aware of—often the meetings are strained. They have trouble making peace...until the last time they see each other. At the end of the conversation, they speak of their mothers:

"Did I tell you My mother, she never did stop dancing."

"Yes. You told me. And mine, she never got well."

These lines make me think that the grown women understand that they were reflections of their mothers. Twyla's mother never stopped dancing, and Roberta's mom was continually unwell. However, as readers we may be able to infer that Twyla and Roberta were, in some ways, able to get past the barriers that separated them, especially when racial conflicts fragmented society so deeply.

Roberta wants to tell Twyla that they had not been mean to one of the orphanage's charges, Maggie. Roberta had told Twyla they had hurt her and Twyla couldn't remember—but Robert had promised herself to set the record straight if they met. They had not hurt her, though out of frustration, Roberta had wanted to.

The fact that Roberta tells Twyla the truth so Twyla won't worry about it indicates to me that there is some part of the friendship the girls shared still in tact. They both acknowledge that they were kids—both lonely and scared, and the words seem like a peace offering: maybe they aren't completely like their moms.





nysj022's profile pic

nysj022 | (Level 1) eNoter

Posted on

Just to be clear, Toni morrison never stated which girl is black and which is white. The whole point of this story was to keep the reader thinking about the importance of steryotypes in society. To say Roberta is white and Twyla is black is purely opinion and closes off a the opportunity to see the deeper meaning behind Morrison's writing style.

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