At what point in the short story "Recitatif," by Toni Morrison, does the reader first begin to make assumptions about the race and class of the two main characters?

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Toni Morrison's "Recitatif," indications of a difference in race and class between the two main characters begin in the shelter where the youngsters meet. That the girls come from different situations is apparent from the story's first line:

My mother danced all night and Roberta's was sick. 

The difference between the two in terms of race is clear when Twyla learns that she and Roberta will be roommates. Twyla notes:

The minute I walked in and the Big Bozo introduced us, I got sick to my stomach. It was one thing to be taken out of your own bed early in the morning—it was something else to be stuck in a strange place with a girl from a whole other race.

The difference in race and class (as well as background) is glaringly obvious through Twyla's observations of her mother and the reactions of Roberta's mother toward Mary, when all the parents come for a Sunday visit with their children. (We can infer it was Easter: the girls have made baskets in craft class, with fake grass and jellybeans, to give to their moms.) By this time, Twyla and Roberta have learned to get along really well. They believe that Twyla's mother's dancing will be good for Roberta's sick mom, and that Roberta's mom will be greatly entertained by Twyla's "dancing [mother]."

The kids are extremely excited to see their mothers and to be able to introduce the mothers to each other. They have curled each other's hair. Roberta washed her socks by hand the evening before (which have not yet dried by next morning, though she still wears them).

Twyla sees her mother immediately, calling her by her first name:

I saw Mary right away. She had on those green slacks I hated...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.

Twyla is trying to hide her enthusiasm over her mother's visit: she doesn't want anyone to know just how much it means to her. Roberta finds her friend as she is moving with her mother towards the chapel service and introduces Twyla and Mary to her mom. Twyla recalls:

I looked up it seemed for miles. She was big...and on her chest was the biggest cross I'd ever seen...And in the crook of her arm was the biggest Bible ever made...

Mary...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.

Twyla watches as it takes her mother some time to realize that she has been snubbed, and Mary explodes with a vulgarity in response to Roberta's mother's behavior. Mary does not know how to behave in chapel and Twyla is embarrassed.

[Mary] actually reached in her purse for a mirror to check her lipstick. All I could think of was that she really needed to be killed.

Mary has brought nothing for the two of them to eat: they end up sharing the jellybeans from the basket, while Roberta's mother has packed a veritable feast: sandwiches, oranges, cookies, and milk. And her mother then reads the Bible to Roberta.

By this time, there is no doubt that these kids are very different. They can work around the differences, but as also happens later, the world is not so flexible.