“Sisters separated for much too long”: Women’s Friendship and Power in Toni Morrison’s “Recitatif”

Susana M. Morris, Auburn University
Vol. 32, No. 1 (Spring 2013), 159-180

This essay considers the paradigms and power structures of women’s friendships in Toni Morrison’s only short story to date, “Recitatif” (1983), an approach missing from current scholarship about the text. The essay argues that imposing a divide between the story as a racial allegory and a meditation on women’s connections is a specious separation. By including a rigorous assessment of power dynamics in women’s friendship, this article enriches our understanding of the text and underscores the interconnectedness of race, class, and gender as intersecting subject positions and oppressions. Furthermore, the essay asserts that in “Recitatif” women’s friendships are fraught with anxiety regarding power but that the imposition of a simple binary of empowered/disempowered lacks efficacy within the text. Morrison’s story underscores the notion that friendships predicated upon hegemonic notions of power necessarily fail, as they are fundamentally antithetical to maintaining positive and sustaining relationships between women. This essay ultimately concludes that Morrison indicates the possibility of dismantling normative gender socialization when women begin to question and to reject conventional paradigms of power in their connections to one another.

Mary Wollstonecraft Sojourner Truth Margaret Atwood Abigail Adams Amy Tan H.D. Simone de Beauvoir Zora Neale Hurston Frances Burney Virginia Woolf

"The white saxifrage with the indented leafe is moste commended for the breakinge of the Stone."

— Turner, Herbal, III, 68 [1568]