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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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5. Masculine Heroes   

16. The Search For Identity

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Activities: Author Activities

Toni Morrison - Author Questions

Back Back to Toni Morrison Activities
  1. Comprehension: What does "recitatif" mean? Why does Morrison use it for the title of her story?

  2. Comprehension: Identify Roberta's and Twyla's races based on textual clues. How do you know? Are you sure? Why or why not? How does any uncertainty affect your reading of the story?

  3. Comprehension: Why do Roberta and Twyla have to live in the orphanage as children? How are they different from the other children there?

  4. Context: Why did some people oppose and some support racial desegregation in schools? What issues were involved?

  5. Context: In the story, the town of Newburgh has changed dramatically because of an influx of IBM employees. For example, the Food Emporium stocks very different types of food for the new residents. Consider these changes in relation to "urban renewal" and "urban relocation."

  6. Context: Think about this story while you analyze images of protesters in the archive. Interpret the language of picketing signs, as well as the picketers' facial expressions and body language. What are they "saying"?

  7. Exploration: Why are Twyla's and Roberta's diverging memories of Maggie so important? Consider Maggie's race, her muteness, and her abuse by the schoolgirls. What does Morrison suggest about why people remember things in certain ways?

  8. Exploration: Roberta and Twyla picket over the issue of racial desegregation in schools, each holding signs that are as much about their personal relationship as they are about the larger issues. In Twyla's words, "People changed signs from time to time, but Roberta never did and neither did I. Actually my sign didn't make sense without Roberta's." What do their signs mean and why do they make sense only together? Also, think about the prevalence of marches and protests at this time. Why did people march for rights? Was it effective?

  9. Exploration: Newburgh has changed since its former sleepy days, but James's family has fond memories of an earlier time in the community, and Twyla "can see them all together on the Hudson in a raggedy skiff." Compare the "old" and "new" Newburgh to the "old" and "new" Hudson River Valley community in Washington Irving's "Rip Van Winkle." Consider the narrators' roles in shaping these histories.

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