In Toni Morrison's story, "Recitatif," what is the main struggle of the protagonist?
In Toni Morrison's short story, entitled, "Recitatif," the narrator is Twyla, a black girl. Her story begins while she is in an orphanage (though her mother is not dead). Her new white roommate, Roberta, is not at first a welcome part of her life, but eventually the two children (both eight-years old) become buddies. While they are at St. Bonny's (St. Bonaventure), the two unlikely friends are pushed around by the older kids, but life is not so bad, especially for Twyla who now is cared for and fed.
When the girls leave to go home, they lose touch. It is here that we see difficulties arising between the two women. They meet in their late teens—most likely—but suddenly race separates them. At the place where Twyla works, Roberta arrives with two "hippies." They have little time for Twyla who leaves feeling snubbed.
When Roberta and Twyla meet many months later at the grocery store, Roberta is as Twyla remembers her. They share coffee, memories and laughs. It seems that the comfortable relationship of their youth has been restored. Twyla is pretty stoic about the past, and she chooses to forget Roberta's previous "snub." Of course, the two have married and become parents, and it seems that what caused a separation between them has become unimportant and forgotten—perhaps as the last vestiges of immaturity…at least for a while.
However, Twyla and Roberta come face-to-face at their next meeting across picket lines. Roberta and her white neighbors are protesting the busing of their children into black neighborhoods. Here Twyla realizes that she and Roberta are truly separated by race, something that it seems Twyla had ever seriously considered…for it was never an issue between them as kids. However, it is an issue now—this protest is the result of segregation in a time when things were getting ready to dramatically change in America, as the Civil Rights Movement is gaining momentum. Twyla seems confused by Roberta's behavior as if she cannot understand how her friend could be a part of racial demonstrations. They stand on opposite sides of a fence.
As they try to move around these issues, I think Twyla is puzzled by Roberta's actions. As the world changes, the two women change as well; harsh words are exchanged as Roberta accuses Twyla of kicking the fallen Maggie in the orchard—kicking a black woman. Twyla remembers none of this—Roberta accuses Twyla of being a "bigot."
Twyla seems to struggle with the question of race where she and Roberta are concerned more than anything: that is the focus of the story. They defined each other very early one. As they grow up, racial tensions creep into their friendship causing Twyla to re-evaluate their connection because of the way Roberta changes through the story. She is becoming civic-minded. It seems that as each women comes to terms with the changes around her, she becomes more aware of life's challenges. Twyla doesn't understand Roberta, but tries to hold onto the friendship they shared early on. This shows how the women grow up, the stages of social development they go through as adults, and how race finally becomes unimportant—but for Twyla, kindness and good character are no less important. Staring a new phase of her life, now Twyla tries desperately to understand how she could ever have been so blind to the needs of Maggie. Twyla has started to worry less for self and more for others.