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Common Reading

MDC Hialeah Campus, Learning Resources, Common Reading

Recitatif by Toni Morrison

Rectitatif by Toni Morrison

Course Guide

Recitatif by Toni Morrison challenges readers to not make assumptions about the main character based on their race since the author never reveals which girl is white or black. Students will learn and discuss themes of race, identity, social class, friendship and memory.

Professor's Guide

Twyla - The book's narrator and one of the protagonists.

Roberta - One of the protagonists. Twyla's childhood friend.

Maggie - St. Bonaventure's deaf and mute cook.

Mary - Twyla's mother.

"Roberta's mother" - ...you guessed it, Roberta's mom.

James Benson - Twyla's husband.

Kenneth Norton - Roberta's husband. 

Jospeh - Twyla and James' son.

Mrs. Itkin or "Big Bozo" - One if the managers of St. Bonaventure's.

Source: GradeSaver

Themes

  • Race and Racism
  • Identity
  • Memory
  • Patent and children
  • Loss of Innocence
  • Social Class
  • Friendship

Glossary

  • "recitatif" / recitative- a musical device developed in the 1600 in Italy to allow spoken stories to be sung. Recitatives allowed for operas to be moved along entirely through song, consequently empowering individual voices.
    jacks - game played where the player tosses a ball in the air and then quickly grabs a number of jack before the ball bounces.
  • biddies - a term used for annoying older women.
  • skiff - a flat-bottom boat.
  • hunky-dory - a phrase used to express satisfaction.
  • kook - another term for crazy.

Source: GradeSaver, The Genius of Play, Britannica

Recitatif Discussion Questions 

  1. Based on the text, readers can surmise that Twyla and Roberta were around eight years on un the 1950s and in their 20s in the late 1960s (Roberta was going to see Jimi Hendrix, who became popular in the late 60s before his unfortunate death in 1970). Now that readers have this context and from what we know about American history, what were racial relations like in the 1950s and 1960s?
  2. What is the Civil Rights movement? Can you talk about a few Civil Rights leaders? Who was president during this significant time in American History?
  3. In what year did it become prohibited by law to discriminate against black Americans? 
  4. How does this information help you understand the interaction between Roberta’s mother and Twyla’s mother? Does the way Roberta’s mother treats Twyla’s mother gives us a clue about which girl is white and which is black?
  5. With Twyla and Roberta we have one Afro-American character and one Caucasian-American character.  (There are references to them being from two different races throughout the book).  But which character is which?  And, how did you arrive at your decision?  What is your evidence?
  6. Why do you think Morrison makes us guess about the races of Twyla and Roberta instead of just telling us which girl is black and which is white? 
  7. Think of the orchard tree in St. Bonaventure. What is the significance of the orchard tree? Why does the story continually return to references to the orchard and to Maggie? 
  8. Food acts as a unifier, a divider, a source of contention and also a source of comfort throughout. Can you reference instances in the story when food was a source of comfort or contention?
  9. Parent and child relations, specifically motherhood, is a powerful symbol in this story. Who are the various matriarchal figures in this story, and what different types of mothering are represented? How does motherhood change Twyla and Roberta?
  10. What is the story trying to tell us about friendship and memory? Do you think friendship can stand the test of time? Is this the case for Twyla and Roberta? What memories and events bond Twyla and Roberta?

  11. Do you think Twyla and Roberta were afraid of Maggie as children? When the girls meet again as grownups, how does Roberta react to Twyla’s memory of Maggie? How does Roberta’s reaction make Twyla feel?

  12. Neither of the girls can agree on Maggie's race; she's described as "sandy colored" and as "pitch-black." Why do you think the author doesn't reveal Maggie's race and what does this tell us about race and identity in general?

  13. What does Twyla say about Maggie at the end of Act 4? (Answer: “Maggie was my dancing mother.”)

  14. What does she mean by this? Look for clues in the text. • At the very end of this act, Twyla says that she knew Maggie “couldn’t scream—just like me—and I was glad about that.” Why do you think she identifies with Maggie? • Why do you think Twyla would have been “glad” that Maggie couldn’t call out for help?

  1. How does Firoozeh feel on her first day of elementary school when her mother cannot locate Iran on a map? What kinds of assumptions might her fellow classmates make about Firoozeh’s inability to speak English, her unusual Persian name, and her mother accompanying her to school? To what extent do you think language barriers are to blame for cultural misunderstandings?
  2. How would you characterize the role of television in Firoozeh’s family? Why does television’s visual medium connect her relatives to American products and attitudes in ways that their language cannot?
  3. How does Firoozeh’s experience at Disneyland, where she is encouraged to communicate with another missing child in her native Persian, expose Western biases about people who don’t speak English fluently? How do you feel about “racial profiling,” or making assumptions about someone’s ethnicity based on their appearance and accent? On what past occasions have you experienced or carried out racial profiling, and how do you feel about it now, in light of Firoozeh’s encounter?
  4. How did the experiences of Firoozeh and her family in America compare to how their friends who arrived after the Iranian Revolution and the hostage crisis were treated? Why are immigrants whose native countries are in conflict with their adopted country sometimes subjected to mistreatment and–in some cases–discrimination or abuse? What does this all-too-common phenomenon suggest about the intersection of patriotism and xenophobia?
  5. What does Firoozeh’s decision to take an American name suggest about her feelings toward her adopted country? What might her name change to Julie suggest about her identity as an immigrant? How does her dual identity (and her ability to speak English without any discernable accent) enable her to see how Americans really feel about Iran?
  6. Firoozeh’s father, Kazem, is grateful for his opportunity to vote as a naturalized American citizen. Why might being able to vote make someone feel especially connected with one’s community or country? Based on the information about Iran you have learned from Funny in Farsi, how do the political rights of Iranian citizens compare to the political rights of American citizens?
  7. How does Firoozeh’s use of humor to describe her experiences as an Iranian immigrant in America enable you to appreciate the more confusing or mystifying aspects of American culture? How would the experience of reading this book differ for you if it were told from a more serious perspective? Of the many humorous moments detailed by Firoozeh Dumas, which was most memorable for you, and why?

Anecdote - A short description or an account of any event to support some point that makes the readers laugh over the topic presented for the purpose.

Autobiography - A type of biography written by the author themselves to record their own lives.

Bias - A one-side illogical and non-neutral support of a viewpoint in favor against the other side.

Biography - Typically written in third person, a biography is a non-fiction and objective account of a person's life.

Comic Relief - A literary device used in plays and novels to introduce light entertainment between tragic scenes.

Imagery - Imagery is a literary device that refers to the use of figurative language to evoke a sensory experience with words for a reader.

Irony - Irony is a literary device in which contradictory statements or situations reveal a reality that is different from what appears to be true.

Memoir - A story involving reflections on memories of particular events in someone's life.

Metaphor - A metaphor is a figure of speech that makes a comparison between two non-similar things.

Motif - An object or idea that repeats itself throughout a literary work.

Novel - A long work of fiction written in prose.

Propaganda - The spreading of rumors, false or correct information, or an idea, in order to influence the opinion of society.

Semantic - The interpretation and meaning of the words, sentence structure, and symbols.

Setting - Device that allows the writer of a narrative to establish the time, location, and environment in which it takes place. 

Simile - A figure of speech in which two essentially dissimilar objects or concepts are expressly compared with one another through the use of “like” or “as.”

Stereotype - Preconceived notion about people or things with a particular characteristics. 

Symbolism - Device that refers to the use of symbols in a literary work, representing something beyond literal meaning.

Theme - Underline Refers to the central, deeper meaning of a written work. 

Tone - Device that reflects the writer’s attitude toward a subject matter or audience of a literary work.

 

Source: Literary Devices Definitions and Examples