Folk Music in Toni Morrison’s Recitatif

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Allusions to Bob Dylan and the Folk Music Revival in Toni Morrison’s “Recitatif”

One important aspect of Toni Morrison’s “Recitatif” deals with the difficulty that lies in trying to remember history exactly as it happened. Since the story revolves around one event–Maggie’s fall–it makes one question whether her fall may be a symbol of some specific event in our history. Considering the context and setting of Twyla and Roberta’s beginning relationship at St. Bonny’s, Maggie’s physical description, job, name, and fall allude to Bob Dylan and the folk music revival of the early 1960s.

Bob Dylan began his career as a folk singer in New York City in 1960–the same city and approximate time Twyla and Roberta begin their relationship (Shelton 87). The folk music scene in New York brought “hundreds of guitar carrying youths” like Dylan to Greenwich Village (Denisoff and Fandray 31). Many of these young musicians were influenced by folk singers of the Dust Bowl era– especially Dylan, whose admiration of Woody Guthrie often came to the point of mimicry: “Dylan’s appearance and manner, both on stage and off, were vintage Guthrie” (Hajdu 72). Twyla’s description of Maggie is very similar to how one may have described this combination of old and young:

She was old and sandy-colored and she worked in the kitchen. I don’t know if she was nice or not. I just remember her legs like parentheses and how she rocked when she walked . . . She wore this really stupid little hat–a kid’s hat with ear flaps–and she wasn’t much taller than we were. A really awful little hat. Even for a mute, it was dumb–dressing like a kid and never saying anything at all. (Morrison 211)

Maggie’s description creates an awkward ...

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