M. Bryan Strain
Nathan Straight, PhD
28 September 2012
The Sing Song in Toni Morrison’s Recitatif
The Oxford English Dictionary states that recitatif is a French variation of the Italian recitativo or the English recitative. It is described as a sing song voice for speeches between acts in an opera or an oratorio (OED). It reminds me of Neil Diamond, is he singing or talking? It is also a brilliant title for this story.
The actual voice used by the author changes throughout the text. When Twyla is a child, the author speaks in a child voice. You can tell she’s too smart to still be the young child, but her voice is undoubtedly that of an eight year old girl. As all children grow, so does the voice of the narrator grow with the character. The story is developed as a series of acts in an opera, revisiting the main characters at various points in life.
The sing song voice does not only apply to the voice of the narrator, but also to the nature of the characters. In contrast to Twyla’s grandparents-in-law for whom nothing ever changes, drastic changes become visible between Twyla and Roberta each time they meet.
Finally there is the sing song nature of race shown in both Twyla and Roberta. Each character shows clues that can be interpreted as representing a black or white character. Twyla’s name sounds black, but so does Roberta’s “big and wild” hair (Morrison 472). Roberta’s wealthy husband working for IBM sounds white, but so does Twyla’s reaction to Hendrix.
It’s ironic that Morrison is a multi-layered master of using recitatif, a variable, sing song, mechanism with the purpose of making her readers realize they are more the same than different. I also find it ironic that while all people should have equal rights before god and country, it is the recitatif voice that makes things so beautiful and pleasing.
Morrison, Toni. “Recitatif.” New Worlds of Literature: Writings from America’s Many Cultures. Eds. Jerome Beaty and J. Paul Hunter. 2nd. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1983. 467-82. Print.
Oxford University Press. “The Oxford English Dictionary.” Oxford University Press, 2012. Web. 28 September 2012.