What are the effect of the postmodern elements in "Recitatif" by Toni Morrison?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The point of postmodernism most readily noticeable in Recitatif by Toni Morrison is the idea of post-World War II fragmentation of identity by which the unity and integrity of personality is swallowed in disintegrated fragments of identity that don't represent a meaningful unit of definable wholeness. Morrison never gives outright categorical identities to her major characters although she does sprinkle clues that lead--or equally easily mislead--the reader to the characters' identities. For instance, Twayla has a mother who is "as pretty as a picture." Roberta has a mother who refuses to shake hands with the casually dressed dancer mother who didn't bring food for her daughter. Later, Roberta is going to a Jimi Hendrix concert and castigates Twayla, a waitress, for not knowing who Jimi is.

These clues to identity and "cues" to social and cultural categorizatio may or may not direct the reader toward the answer to which girl is "black" and which is "white." the effect of this deliberate postmodernist fragmentation of identity (or, perhaps more accurately in this case, fragmentation of categorization of identity) is to leave the reader guessing as to whom is which and as to which girl and mother fits the racial stereotypes and which doesn't. It leaves a whirling sense of disconnectedness. This fragmentation and disconnectedness is spurred on by Morrison who intentionally emphasizes that the question of who is--as the characters say--"black" and who is "white" is the central point of the story. Morrison spurs the readers on by having her characters say things like, "[You] know how it was in those days: black-white."

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