Hidden Meaning of Recitatif by Toni Morrison Essay

Paper Type: 
Pages:  4
Wordcount:  850 Words
Date:  2021-03-04


Society would agree that occasionally people keep their thoughts to themselves; some keep more to themselves than others. Imagine never being able to have a voice in anything, share any opinion, worry, concern or thought. When a person is unable to communicate, it is like a component of life has been snatched away. The seclusion that Maggie must feel would be so overwhelming, leading to depression and helplessness. In Toni Morrison's short story, Recitatif, the character, Maggie, is victimized in order to vividly express the struggles present within the protagonists.

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Recitatif Character Analysis: Maggie

Who was Maggie in Recitatif? Maggie, the handicapped kitchen help, is often abused by the older children at St. Bonny. Twyla, the narrator, remembers a particular time when the older girls pushed Maggie down and tortured her. Maggie's inability to speak has shut her off from the rest of the world around her. Her feelings of loneliness and seclusion are reflected in the protagonists, Twyla and Roberta. Although the girls are from very different backgrounds, they live under similar circumstances in the sense that they were both taken out of their lives without a rational explanation. It appears that they do have each other, but not many others in their lives. Even the other children at St. Bonny rejected them, “...Nobody else wanted to play with us because we weren't real orphans” (Morrison 201). They didn't seem to fit in at the orphanage because their parents were not deceased. Rather their parents were either incompetent or unable to take care of them. Twyla and Roberta shared the pain of abandonment and feelings of being insignificant. Those were things that would affect them later in their lives. Nonetheless, they are all things that Maggie and the girls were feeling in unison.

What Kind of Social Conflict Is in Recitatif?

That afternoon in the garden they experienced something that they perfectly understood was wrong, yet they did not do anything to prevent the incident from occurring. They have been victims of the older girls bullying at St. Bonnys before at which time they showed very little sympathy for Maggie. Perhaps they felt they could not help it with the older girls or were just unable to grasp fully what was happening in front of them. This recurred several times throughout their story. The first time Twyla and Roberta are reunited it is not a pleasant experience. Regarding the Recitatif relationship between Twyla and Roberta, In that instance, Twyla was the victim of Roberta's imperious behavior. When Roberta made a comment, Twyla did not understand that her reaction was demining, She laughed then a private laugh that included the guys but only the guys (Morrison, 205). This left Twyla with the feeling of being less than and unimportant to her friend from the past. The third time they met was over a verbal disagreement in front of the school. This time, however, Roberta was the victim of Twyla's passive-aggressive protest that soon grew to target her. The differences (racial and social class) seem to become very evident during this event in the short story. The girls were victims of bullying at a young age, and this trend continued throughout their lives; whether they were the bullies or victims. Even though Twyla and Roberta were victims in a much more subtle way than Maggie, they still were all victims of bullying in some form.

What Happened to Maggie in Recitatif?

Maggie was voiced throughout the short story even after the fact that Twyla and Roberta were no longer residents of St. Bonnys. Twyla and Roberta had differing opinions on what happened to Maggie on that fateful afternoon in the garden. However, they did agree on one thing, and that was that Maggie was mistreated. In turn, this represented that both girls believed that they were also being abused in life. Howard Sklar says it best in his analysis, “What the hell happened to Maggie?” Twyla and Roberta's childhood ignorance allows them to disregard Maggie's disabilities and judge her for being different, but as they mature, their realization of her disabilities fill the girls with pity and remorse (Sklar 16). Sklar acknowledged the use of age along with the feelings that followed the realization. Those were feelings that the girls carried around with them through adulthood and affected their everyday lives. What does recitatif mean? The title itself, means recital (the repetition or practice). The author's continuous and recurring mentioning of Maggie depicts that the girls still carried with them the unfortunate circumstances from their childhood.


Maggie symbolizes many things about the main characters. She was present when the two protagonists first met as children, the tragic event that happened to her deeply affected the two girls. This was her first appearing connection to the protagonists, and her presence is a recurring theme throughout the story. Maggie represents the girl's feeling of mistreatment, abandonment, and insignificance. In the end, Twyla and Roberta were not able to move past these feelings. Thus, the big question is whether or not these two will ever let go of what happened to them at St. Bonny.

Works Cited

Morrison, Toni. Recitatif. New York: Morrow, 1983. Print.

Sklar, Howard. "What the Hell Happened to Maggie?" Stereotype, Sympathy, and Disability in Toni Morrison's "Recitatif." N.P.: Liverpool University Press, n.d. N. pag. Print.

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Hidden Meaning of Recitatif by Toni Morrison Essay. (2021, Mar 04). Retrieved from https://proessays.net/essays/hidden-meaning-of-recitatif-by-toni-morrison

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