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The article shows that, while the "no pity" position justifiably opposes representations of the disabled that reinforce the perceived weaknesses of the disabled population, there are alternative ways of looking at the role played by sympathy in response to disabled characters in fiction, as is emphasized by an examination of Toni Morrison's short story "Recitatif." While the narrative's dependence on the implicitly disabled character Maggie for its effects suggests that she serves a "prosthetic" role in the development of the protagonists' (and readers') sympathy, the article argues that "Recitatif" makes a significant move in guiding readers toward a more complex view of Maggie's identity, as well as a level of sympathetic engagement that effectively transcends her apparently prosthetic function. Thus, it is demonstrated that a rigid rejection of sympathetic responses to disabled characters denies readers an important opportunity to develop "a cultivated imagination for what men have in common and a rebellion at whatever unnecessarily divides them" (Dewey, 121).
Critics have regarded Toni Morrison's "Recitatif" (1983) as a tour de force of racial readings and misreadings--a work exposing society's unspoken racialized codes. (1) In this short story tracing the lives of Twyla and Roberta from their youth in a shelter at St. Bonaventure to various stages of their adulthood, Morrison explores the experiences of two girls of different races, but she never reveals the race of either girl except through a series of social codes that underscore how race may be conflated with class, ambiguous physical traits, and social rituals such as eating certain foods. In Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (1992), Morrison explains, "The only short story I have ever written, 'Recitatif,' was an experiment in the removal of all racial codes from a narrative about two characters of different races for whom racial identity is crucial" (xi). Thus, it is not surprising that critics have been pre-occupied with the question: Which character is white and which character is black?
In the following essay, Otten discusses "Recitatif" as both a departure from and a reflection of Morrison's novels, noting that this short story not only explores racial and gender considerations, but also probes the mythic significance of initiation themes.
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