Rowing the same boat with different oars

“21 Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.” Colossians 3: 21

by Esther Merbt @ Pixabay.com
“We are not so different that it makes a difference”

Are you an avid reader? Well, I’m not. However, I’m taking a literature class. Oh, my goodness, I had no idea the study of literature was so broad. This week we’re focusing on how to analyze stories to determine narrator reliability.

To analyze text, it is necessary to pay close attention to details. It is not unusual, even suggested to read the text more than once. Also, making annotations is highly recommended. Taking notes while reading text helps avoid having to reread an entire story to summarize or extract pivotal points.  I will be doing all of these things.

For the first time, I’m reading “Racitatif” a short story written by Toni Morrison. The class is searching for truth to determine which character between Twyla and Robert seems more believable.

Recitatif is a story about two girls, who end up living in an orphanage for different reasons. One girl is Black and the other White which the author intentionally fails to point out anywhere in the story. Making race the central point of contention was not her wish. Shelters and foster care parents replaced orphanages. The reason, to provide children with more of a homelike environment.

The orphanage is called St. Bonny’s. Twyla’s is there because her mother “danced all night,” Roberta’s mother is “sick.” Essentially, Twyla and Roberta realize they are both there due to parental neglect regardless of how either spins their story.

Determined to move on Twyla begins reflecting on how outsiders respond to orphans living in shelters. Booth & Mays, (2010) wrote “People want to put their arms around you when you tell them you live in a shelter.” The girls quickly discover they were not color blind and that each had issues with being stuck in a strange place with girls ethnically unlike each other. ”Twyla said, “it was something else to be stuck in a strange place with a girl from a whole other race.” (Booth & Mays, 2010)

Examining Twyla and Roberta’s lives through modern-day lenses would concur that Twyla’s mom loved partying in night clubs. Roberta’s mother seems to have some type of mental disorder. Twyla says Mary, her mother, would stop dancing long enough to tell her something important, “and one of the things she said was that they never washed their hair and they smelled funny. Twyla’s remark here would be the second indicative of racial overtones. Early on it becomes clear that either girl wants to bunk with the other, but the woman running the orphanage, “the Big Bozo,” (Mrs. Itkin) gave them no choice.

Nobody at the orphanage wanted to play with Twyla or Roberta because they were not considered to be real orphans, just girls dumped by living mothers. In the eyes of other children in the orphanage, real orphans were orphans whose parents were dead. In different ways, all throughout Twyla and Robert’s stay at St. Bonny’s tidbits of each one’s life is laid to bare.

Twyla’s reveal is more vivid and transparent, while Roberta’s is less discernable and evidences elements of fantasy. The oars used to tread through the life of each girl’s life bear resemblances but are so different.

They had to be because Roberta and Twyla faced distinct yet similar journeys in their lives. The success of either’s survival hung on careful selection of appropriate, yet effective survival techniques tailored to each girl’s individual situation. Perhaps this is the norm for overcoming life’s challenges, or maybe not.

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