The Construction of Race: Exploring Race and Racelessness in Toni Morrison’s “Recitatif”
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This thesis seeks to explore the question whether and how a text can ever become unracialized through a case study of Toni Morrison’s short story “Recitatif.” In this short story, the two girls Twyla and Roberta, who spend some time in a care home for children, meet each other multiple times in different phases of their lives. One of the girls is Black and one of them is White, but the reader is unaware of which girl is which. This experiment with racial ambiguity is read alongside Morrison’s Playing in the Dark. Building on Morrison’s collection of critical essays, this thesis demonstrates how “Recitatif” emphasizes the paradoxical nature of enforcing racelessness in a text and its consequences. It does so firstly by analysing the role of the reader in the construction of race. Because of the racial ambiguity, the reader is made responsible for making their own racialized assumptions, making them ultra-aware of their own subconscious racial associations. Furthermore, methods for constructing race, which Morrison argues are used by White writers in Playing in the Dark, are applied to the characters in “Recitatif” to explore how these characters are constructed. Finally, through an intersectional reading of the text, the elements of motherhood, class, and disability are explored to establish the impossibility of an unracialized text and how crucial the concept of the ‘Other’ is for identity formation.