Toni Morrison

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Why is Maggie significant in Toni Morrison's "Recitatif" and what does she symbolize?

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In Toni Morrison’s story “Recitatif,” Maggie is the “kitchen woman” at the orphanage where Twyla and Roberta live as children, and she becomes a symbol for their mothers and themselves. Let’s look at this in more detail.

Maggie is a minor character in the story, yet she holds a place in both girls’ memories. Maggie is old and bow-legged and mute. She walks funny, and she dresses funny. Some of the older girls make fun of her, taunting her and getting rough. Even Twyla and Roberta call Maggie names.

Maggie is vulnerable, and she reminds the girls of their own vulnerability. Like Maggie, they are caught in a situation they cannot control. Twyla’s mother dances all night and does not take care of her daughter. This is why Twyla is at St. Bonny’s. Roberta’s mother is ill, so she must stay at the orphanage. Maggie is probably the only person they see who seems worse off then they are, so they lash out at her in their frustration.

Maggie may also symbolize the girls’ mothers. Both Twyla and Roberta understandably have resentment issues about being at St. Bonny’s, but they cannot act out against their mothers who are to blame, so they make Maggie with her funny walk (almost like dancing) and her disability into a scapegoat.

When Twyla and Roberta grow up, they have a dispute over the memory of Maggie. Roberta insists that she was black. Twyla insists that she was not. Roberta says that the girls’ pushed Maggie and kicked her, which they never did. Both of these women have to come to terms with the symbolism that Maggie has held for them and, more deeply, with the pain in their own lives.

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