Recitatif

Pdf fan Tap here to download this LitChart! (PDF)

Maggie Character Analysis

Introduced as a minor character, Maggie comes to take on a central—if mysterious—significance within the story. The children at St. Bonny’s refer to her as the “kitchen woman,” and Twyla’s initial description of her emphasizes the fact that she is old, “sandy-colored,” and bow-legged. Maggie cannot talk, and while some children claim her tongue was cut out, Twyla suspects that she has simply never been able to speak. She and Roberta test Maggie’s ability to hear by calling her “Dummy!” and “Bow Legs!”. While she doesn’t react, Twyla is left feeling guiltily certain that she could hear them. Over the course of the story it becomes clear that the children feel angry toward Maggie on the basis of her helplessness and vulnerability. Twyla fixates on the fact that she wears “a really stupid little hat—a kid’s hat with ear flaps.” Later, she comes to understand the similarities between Maggie’s unusual way of moving (caused by her physical disability) and Twyla’s mother Mary’s problem of “dancing all night.” Like the other children, Twyla wants to hurt Maggie because Maggie represents both Mary’s and Twyla’s own vulnerability. Maggie becomes a point of contention between Twyla and Roberta when Roberta claims that the two of them kicked her in the orchard along with the gar girls. Roberta also claims that Maggie is black, a fact that Twyla disputes (along with the memory of her and Roberta kicking her). Roberta later rescinds her claim that the two children pushed Roberta, but at this point both women have been forced to confront their desire to hurt Maggie, even if they didn’t actually kick her themselves. Meanwhile, Maggie’s racial ambiguity reflects the women’s own complicated relationship with race, including their resistance to being identified as racially oppressive or bigoted while simultaneously wanting to distance themselves from Maggie’s helpless, pitiful existence.

Maggie Quotes in Recitatif

The Recitatif quotes below are all either spoken by Maggie or refer to Maggie. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Friendship vs. Family Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the HarperCollins edition of Recitatif published in 1998.
Recitatif Quotes

I used to dream a lot and almost always the orchard was there. Two acres, four maybe, of these little apple trees. Hundreds of them. Empty and crooked like beggar women when I first came to St. Bonny's but fat with flowers when I left. I don't know why I dreamt about that orchard so much. Nothing really happened there. Nothing all that important, I mean. Just the big girls dancing and playing the radio. Roberta and me watching. Maggie fell down there once.

Related Characters: Twyla (speaker), Roberta , Maggie, The Gar Girls (The Older Girls)
Related Symbols: Dance, The Orchard
Page Number: 205
Explanation and Analysis:

Twyla has introduced the “gar girls,” the teenagers who wear makeup and dance to the radio in the orchard. She has explained that she and Roberta were afraid of the gar girls, but in this passage notes that she doesn’t think of the orchard as being significant other than as a place where she and Roberta would watch the girls dancing from afar. Her description of the “empty and crooked” trees in the orchard implicitly links the orchard to Maggie, who is bow-legged and whom Twyla perceives to be a person without interior consciousness—in other words, who is “empty.” The orchard can also be seen as a symbolic Garden of Eden, where Twyla and Roberta’s childhood innocence is confronted with the gar girl’s “sinful,” sexualized behavior.

Twyla’s words suggest that even though she is not consciously aware of the orchard’s importance, she understands it on a subconscious, intuitive level, which is why she dreams about it even though “nothing really happened there.” This foreshadows Roberta’s revelation years later that Maggie didn’t just “fall once” in the orchard, but was in fact pushed and kicked—an episode that becomes the emotional and moral center of the story.

A+

Unlock explanations and citation info for this and every other Recitatif quote.

Plus so much more...

Get LitCharts A+
Already a LitCharts A+ member? Sign in!

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.

Related Characters: Twyla (speaker), Maggie
Page Number: 206
Explanation and Analysis:

Twyla has described Maggie, the racially ambiguous “kitchen woman” who is bow-legged and cannot speak. Overall, Twyla’s feelings about Maggie seem to range between curiosity and neutrality. However, in this passage, she takes on a more judgmental tone, expressing stern disapproval at the “stupid little hat” Maggie wears. This leads Twyla to indirectly blame Maggie for her own disability, saying “even for a mute, it was dumb… never saying anything at all.” This logical slip reveals the ease with which people can come to blame those who are vulnerable for their own difference and misfortune.

Twyla does not blame Maggie for her disability outright, but is fixated on the hat as a visual manifestation of Maggie’s inability to communicate with the outside world, a manifestation that—unlike Maggie’s actual disabilities—Maggie chooses to wear herself. These cruel thoughts foreshadow the eventual revelation that both Twyla and Roberta wanted the gar girls to hurt Maggie, a fact that Roberta eventually claims is as bad as hurting her themselves.

I didn't kick her; I didn't join in with the gar girls and kick that lady, but I sure did want to. We watched and never tried to help her and never called for help. Maggie was my dancing mother. Deaf, I thought, and dumb. Nobody inside. Nobody who would hear you if you cried in the night. Nobody who could tell you anything important that you could use. Rocking, dancing, swaying as she walked. And when the gar girls pushed her down and started rough-

housing, I knew she wouldn't scream, couldn't—just like me—and I was glad about that.

Related Characters: Twyla (speaker), Maggie, The Gar Girls (The Older Girls)
Related Symbols: Dance, The Orchard
Page Number: 225
Explanation and Analysis:

In the midst of an argument partly about busing, Roberta has revealed that Maggie didn’t fall down in the orchard, but was pushed and kicked by the gar girls. Roberta has also claimed that she and Twyla joined in with this kicking, but in this passage Twyla concludes (after some deliberation) that this is false. However, this moment of realization is not about exonerating herself from blame over Maggie’s suffering. Rather, Twyla suddenly comes to understand the true nature of her feelings about Maggie and why, even though she didn’t push Maggie herself, she wanted the gar girls to hurt her.

To the young Twyla, Maggie is symbolic of both her mother, Mary, and herself. Like Mary, Maggie has an unusual way of walking that causes her to “dance” and attracts negative attention from others. Similarly, Mary’s habit of dancing is framed as a kind of disability when Twyla compares it to Roberta’s mother’s illness, and uses it as the justification for why Mary cannot take care of her. At the same time, Maggie’s inability to speak is a reflection of Twyla’s own powerlessness as a child living at the shelter. As a result of having a neglectful mother, Twyla prematurely developed an adult sense of responsibility and maturity. However, she had no “voice” with which to articulate this, and if she “cried in the night,” there was no mother there to hear her. As a result, Maggie becomes a symbol of Twyla’s painful frustrations toward Mary and toward herself, a frustration so powerful that it verges on violence.

"Did I tell you? My mother, she never did stop dancing."
"Yes. You told me. And mine, she never got well." Roberta lifted her hands from the tabletop and covered her face with her palms. When she took them away she really was crying. "Oh, shit, Twyla. Shit, shit, shit. What the hell happened to Maggie?"

Related Characters: Twyla (speaker), Roberta (speaker), Maggie, Mary (Twyla’s Mother), Roberta’s Mother
Related Symbols: Dance
Page Number: 227
Explanation and Analysis:

Roberta has become hysterically upset over the incident with Maggie, and Twyla has attempted to comfort her, telling her that they were just children. In an effort to distract her, Twyla returns to a consistent refrain in the women’s relationship: their habit of asking about each other’s mothers. At first this seems to help, however the last words of the story are in the form of Roberta’s sudden exclamation: “What the hell happened to Maggie?” As a result, the story ends on a climactic, unresolved note. While Twyla has been able to move on from the incident with Maggie and does not seem to feel guilty about it, Roberta remains fixated.

Meanwhile, Roberta’s question also speaks directly to the reader, and raises two possible lines of inquiry. One refers to the episode in the orchard, and brings up the unresolved issues of what took place. Why did the gar girls kick her? Why did no one intervene? Why was Big Bozo fired, and was it a direct result of what happened to Maggie? However, the more obvious reading points to the question of Maggie’s ultimate fate. While both Roberta and Twyla have overcome their traumatic childhoods and achieved relative success in life, Maggie’s circumstances remain completely unknown. She is a lost character, an outcast within the narrative. The question of her fate is only raised at the very end of the story, when it is too late to receive an answer.

Get the entire Recitatif LitChart as a printable PDF.
Recitatif.pdf.medium

Maggie Character Timeline in Recitatif

The timeline below shows where the character Maggie appears in Recitatif. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Recitatif
Outsiders, Outcasts, and the Unwanted Theme Icon
Sickness and Disability Theme Icon
Childhood vs. Adulthood Theme Icon
...She claims “nothing really happened there,” aside from the older girls dancing. She adds that “Maggie fell down there once,” and explains that Maggie was a bow-legged woman who worked in... (full context)
Outsiders, Outcasts, and the Unwanted Theme Icon
Sickness and Disability Theme Icon
Childhood vs. Adulthood Theme Icon
Race and Prejudice Theme Icon
Twyla explains that Maggie couldn’t talk; although some of the children say she had her tongue cut out, Twyla... (full context)
Friendship vs. Family Theme Icon
Outsiders, Outcasts, and the Unwanted Theme Icon
Sickness and Disability Theme Icon
Childhood vs. Adulthood Theme Icon
...including gym.” However, Twyla and Roberta got along well. Twyla recalls that “the day before Maggie fell down” the girls found out their mothers were coming to visit on the same... (full context)
Friendship vs. Family Theme Icon
Outsiders, Outcasts, and the Unwanted Theme Icon
Sickness and Disability Theme Icon
Childhood vs. Adulthood Theme Icon
...husband, Kenneth, and their two servants. Twyla asks Roberta if she remembers the time when Maggie fell down and the gar girls laughed at her. Roberta gravely responds that Maggie didn’t... (full context)
Outsiders, Outcasts, and the Unwanted Theme Icon
Sickness and Disability Theme Icon
Childhood vs. Adulthood Theme Icon
Twyla has no recollection of Maggie being pushed, but Roberta insists that this is what happened and that she and Twyla... (full context)
Friendship vs. Family Theme Icon
Outsiders, Outcasts, and the Unwanted Theme Icon
Sickness and Disability Theme Icon
Childhood vs. Adulthood Theme Icon
Race and Prejudice Theme Icon
...never got well. After Roberta goes, Twyla wonders if it’s possible Roberta is right about Maggie. (full context)
Friendship vs. Family Theme Icon
Outsiders, Outcasts, and the Unwanted Theme Icon
Sickness and Disability Theme Icon
Childhood vs. Adulthood Theme Icon
Race and Prejudice Theme Icon
...Roberta claims it is hypocritical for Twyla to call her a bigot, considering she kicked Maggie. Twyla is confused, as she is sure that Maggie wasn’t black. She says this to... (full context)
Friendship vs. Family Theme Icon
Outsiders, Outcasts, and the Unwanted Theme Icon
Sickness and Disability Theme Icon
Childhood vs. Adulthood Theme Icon
Race and Prejudice Theme Icon
...but doesn’t see her. She continues to dwell on the question of whether or not Maggie was actually black. Suddenly it occurs to Twyla that she and Roberta both know the... (full context)
Friendship vs. Family Theme Icon
Outsiders, Outcasts, and the Unwanted Theme Icon
Sickness and Disability Theme Icon
Childhood vs. Adulthood Theme Icon
Race and Prejudice Theme Icon
...ever met again. Twyla is resistant, but Roberta explains that it’s “about St. Bonny’s and Maggie.” Roberta insists that she really used to think Maggie was black, but now isn’t sure.... (full context)
Friendship vs. Family Theme Icon
Outsiders, Outcasts, and the Unwanted Theme Icon
Sickness and Disability Theme Icon
Childhood vs. Adulthood Theme Icon
Roberta confesses that Twyla was right, that it was only the gar girls who kicked Maggie. However, Roberta adds that she wanted to kick her, and “wanting to is doing it.”... (full context)