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18 December 2019

AbstractRacial Profile for Characters in Fiction Narrative:

Ideological Racial Discrimination in Recitatif by ToniMorrison

Racial segregation and discrimination is only one of the manydiscriminatory traits enforced in and by the society as an ideologythat can be discerned even without identifying skin color. Thepresent critical literature review was focused analyzing any of themany elements of fiction. Focusing on characterization in fictionnarrative, the discussion exemplifies how Toni Morrison createsfiction characters in the Recitatif (1983) short story,employing a deliberate and strategic effort to exemplify an abstractracial profile. In narrating about the two main characters, Twyla andRoberta, Recitatif (1983) intentionally omits to mentionwhether either of them is white skinned or black skinned. In sodoing, the short story creates an abstract racial profile for itsmain characters, but even then, displays how a racialpremise/ideology is evident from a comprehensive integration ofcultural, economic and social ideological differences that define anindividual in any community/society above mere skin color identity.

Discriminatory Social Identity Even with an Abstract RacialProfile

As shall emerge from the discussion hereafter, different socialstatus and life experiences are defined by different racialidentities that are distinct and objectively identifiable evenwithout the skin color as part of the identifying traits. The shortstory presents two interesting characters who as eight-year girls atan orphanage (St. Bonny’s). However, the two characters change andundergo immense growth experiences over the years until from theorphanage, the girls meet at Howard Johnson’s, at the parking lotof a new shopping mall, at picket lines and at a coffee house. Theentire narration however, comes from the perspective of a seeminglyAfrican American woman (Twyla) and presents Roberta as predictablywhite skinned. As the narrator, Twyla easily earns admiration andappeal from a reader since she was brought to St. Bonny’s by amother who opted to pursue a dancing career because “she just likesto dance all night” (Morison 362).

To highlight the specific cultural, economic and social ideologicaldifferences that Recitatif (1983) uses to display an abstractracial profile that goes above mere skin color, the storyincorporates numerous examples. However, the present discussionhighlights how Recitatif (1983) creates an abstract racialprofile for its main characters, by creating an overall racialpremise/ideology that comprehensively integration of cultural,economic and social ideological differences, to define an individualin the society even without a skin-color identity. But beforereviewing and exemplifying the comprehensive integration of cultural,economic and social ideological differences, it is important toexemplify cultural, economic and social differences. To displaycultural differences between the two main characters, Recitatif(1983) employs distinct clothes styles such as wearing a big crossnecklace, to distinctively present Roberta’s mother aspro-religious white woman, and Twyla as a black woman with aconventional fashion sense.

Socially, upon maturity, Roberta`s hair style changed from big tosleek. In the same aspect, Roberta’s mother is defined as big, acommon social identity for obese white women. Roberta and friendslive a conventional lifestyle of white youths, upholding the socialesteem of celebrities. Finally, the economic differences are easy topredict Twyla and Roberta as living in different environments thatdifferentiates a poor and a middle-class girl, Twyla and Robertarespectively. This justifies why Twyla is a waitress at HowardJohnson’s, while Roberta is a customer. Above the specificcultural, economic and social ideological differences, the discussioncan now highlight the comprehensive integration of these factors tocreate an abstract racial profile.

To begin with, social differences help define an individual above hisor her skin color. The predictably white-Roberta arrived at St.Bonny’s after her mother fell sick, to find a great friend in thepredictably black-Twyla. In their first conversation, she asks, “Isyour mother sick too?” (Morison 362). However, in adulthood Robertamistreats and disrespects Twyla in their interactions. The friendlyand mutually friendly relationship between the two girls worsens whenthe girls lose their childhood innocence and become typical adults.Seemingly, for adults in this context, their ideology is defined bythe society and adults must adopt certain socially discriminatoryideologies that explain the relationship between the two girls whenthey become adults. For instance, to Roberta, the eight-year oldgirls wanted to hit the crazy Maggie so badly, that even if theydidn’t, their willingness to do it was equivalent with the action.In her words, “I really did think she was black” (Morison 373).To these girls, their equivalent feelings were not shaped by theirskin color of the one they wanted to hit, for they equally felt thesame regardless of race. Yet as adults, Maggie’s skin color becomessignificant to Roberta.

From an economics perspective, economically-based social classes helpdefine people. Perhaps, that is why when Twyla approaches Roberta atthe Howard Johnson’s booth, but she does not understand the socialcelebrity Roberta and boyfriends are meeting at the coast.Consequently, Roberta says, “I was dismissed without anyone sayinggoodbye” (Morison 366). To an objective third party, racialdiscrimination embraces the society in a way that is evident evenwhen skin color is not considered. The short story focuses onexemplifying the context of the&nbspAfrican -&nbspAmerican CivilRights Movement&nbspwhich legally recognized and redefined racialdiscrimination and the subsequent racial suffering of the AfricanAmerican people. Ultimately, the entire story is about the charactersin various stages of adulthood, after Twyla meets “a girl from awhole other race” at St. Bonny’s, without clarifying who amongthe two is black or white (Morison 361).

What the narrator describes are precise social codes, social classdifferences, distinctive physical attributes (except for skin color),social rituals, and cultural practices that include identifying thekind and type of food each prefers, likes and even eats. Inadulthood, Roberta abandons and turns her back on Twyla. The storyemploys the distinct characterization to exemplify a relationshipbetween two girls of different races, whose relationship andexperiences are innocent and mutually cordial as children, but whichbecomes discriminatory in adulthood, just as racial discriminationaccrues in any society above the mere identity of skin color. Afterseveral meetings and misunderstandings, when they cannot share thesame perspective into life as they once did, both girls exclaim toeach other subsequently, “I wonder what made me think you aredifferent,” because to Roberta, “well, it is a free country”but to Twyla , “not yet, but it will be” (Morison 370).

The abstract racial profile created for the reader therefore, doesnot eliminate the identity of the two girls, because even withoutclearly stated races, a reader can predict that Roberta (perpetratorof discrimination) is white, and that Twyla is black (the victim ofsocial discrimination). The society exemplifies how socialdiscrimination is experienced in the society in all areas of life,beyond the mere identity of skin color (abstract racial identity).Even when not considering skin color, racial discrimination is areality that naturally occurs and can be identified by an objectivethird party such as the reader in Recitatif (1983). The livesand times of the two women and friends are differentiated by socialand ideological features that a reader can predict from the fictionnarrative, even when the narrative does not distinctively the races.The society naturally categorizes then characters with discriminationregardless of skin color. The story for example narrates how Twylaand Roberta have different and incompatible childhood memoriesregarding the same event (interaction and potential abuse of Maggie –another character whose race is retained as abstract) to demonstratetheir distinct social identities for discrimination also defines theperspective and morals of people. Racial differences are thus evidentto a reader who does not know which of the two characters belongs towhich race.


In conclusion therefore, the foregoing discussion and literarycriticism has focused on the strategic characterization of a fictionnarrative, displayed by Toni Morrison’s Recitatif (1983).According to the analytical review, the short story creates anabstract racial profile for the two main characters, Twyla andRoberta, by omitting any mention of their skin color. Thereader takes an objective standpoint by not knowing the whethereither of Twyla and Roberta is white skinned or black skinned. Thisfiction element helps Morrison display how a racial premise/ideologyis evident in the cultural, economic and social differences thatdefine an individual in any community, even when the third party isunaware of the skin color identity. To a reader, Recitatif(1983) shows how racial discrimination embraces the society in a waythat is evident even when skin color is not considered, and while notcreating differences to children, always becomes evident in adulthoodand among adults.