What are the differences between the mothers in "Recitatif"?

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Twyla and Roberta were from two different worlds, and so were there mothers. The first indication of this we are given is when Twyla recalls her mother telling her that people who belong to Roberta’s racial group smell funny. Based on her mother’s prejudice and the fact that she wouldn’t approve, Twyla resists being placed in a room at St. Bonny’s shelter, where both girls have wound up.

The fact that both Twyla and Roberta have mothers who are still alive makes them stand out at St. Bonny’s, where almost all the children have been orphaned. Roberta’s mother is sick, which means that she is not able to look after her daughter, while Twyla is at St. Bonny’s because her mother “dances all night”.

The differences between the two mothers become more apparent than ever one Sunday when both mothers come to visit. Twyla’s mother Mary shows herself to be racially prejudiced when she refuses to shake Roberta’s mother’s hands. While Twyla is proud of how pretty she is, she feels ashamed that she did not dress up better for the occasion. While Mary failed to bring lunch for her and Twyla to share, Roberta’s mother brought along a surplus of food.

It would seem, overall, that while Twyla’s mother is too self-absorbed to be a good parent, it was simply her illness that led Roberta’s mother to not be able to look after her daughter for a period.

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