Recitatif Study Guide

"Recitatif" is Nobel Prize-winning novelist Toni Morrison’s only short story. It was published in 1983 in Amiri and Amina Baraka’s Confirmation: An Anthology of African American Women. Though race is a central component of the story about two girls who meet at a home for neglected and orphaned children—she describes the story as “about two characters of different races for whom racial identity is crucial”—Morrison does not reveal which child is white and which child is black. By keeping their races ambiguous, she asks readers to probe their own suppositions regarding putative racialized characteristics and behavior.

Morrison penned "Recitatif" after she had written four of her novels: The Bluest Eye (1970), Sula (1974), Song of Solomon (1977), and Tar Baby (1981).

The title is the French word for “recitative,” which, according to Merriam Webster, is “a rhythmically free vocal style that imitates the natural inflections of speech and that is used for dialogue and narrative in operas and oratorios. Also: a passage to be delivered in this style.”