Recitatif

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The Orchard Symbol Analysis

The Orchard Symbol Icon

“Recitatif” is filled with symbolic settings, including Twyla and Roberta’s bedroom, the chapel, Howard Johnson’s, the gourmet market, and the Newburgh diner. However, none is as important or meaningful as the orchard at St. Bonny’s. Twyla introduces the orchard when she explains that the gar girls used to hang out and dance there. She goes on to observe that she used to frequently dream about the orchard. She describes it as 2-4 acres large and filled with apple trees, which were “empty and crooked like beggar women when I first came to St. Bonny's but fat with flowers when I left.” Twyla’s description of the apple trees in winter makes a clear connection between the trees and Maggie, who is “crooked” because of her disability and whom Twyla describes as an empty shell with “nobody inside.”

Indeed, the orchard takes on further resonance as the site of Maggie’s assault by the gar girls. The orchard is thus an Edenic symbol (related to the Biblical story of the Garden of Eden)—a place where childhood innocence gives way to the “sins” of cruelty, vanity, and adolescent sexuality. Twyla is too young to fully comprehend the significance of the orchard while she lives at St. Bonny’s, and thus is confused as to why she dreams about it so often—“Nothing really happened there. Nothing all that important, I mean.” However, as Twyla grows older she is confronted with the sinister significance of the orchard and her own complicity in wanting to hurt Maggie there, and thus by the dark side of her own personality.

The Orchard Quotes in Recitatif

The Recitatif quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Orchard. 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.

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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.

And you were right. We didn’t kick her. It was the gar girls. Only them. But, well, I wanted to. I really wanted them to hurt her. I said we did it too. You and me, but that's not true. And I don't want you to carry that around. It was just that I wanted to do it so bad that day––wanting to is doing it.

Related Characters: Roberta (speaker), Twyla, The Gar Girls (The Older Girls)
Related Symbols: The Orchard
Page Number: 226-227
Explanation and Analysis:

Twyla and Roberta have accidentally run into each other again, this time in a diner where Twyla is stopping for a coffee on her way home, and where Roberta has gone after attending a luxurious ball at the Newburgh Hotel. Although Twyla is resistant to talking to Roberta, Roberta insists that she needs to tell Twyla something. In this passage, she reveals that her claim that she and Twyla kicked Maggie was false, but that she wanted to do it badly, which ultimately means the same thing: “wanting to is doing it.”

Note that this is the same realization—it even uses some of the same language—that Twyla experienced in the previous scene. Both women understand that although they did not take part in beating up Maggie, they watched the gar girls do it not only without intervening, but even hoping that they would hurt her. However, unlike Twyla, Roberta has not fully grasped why she wanted this to happen. In other words, she cannot see that her desire to hurt Maggie was a manifestation of her own frustration, anger, and fear as a vulnerable child living without her mother in the shelter. As a result, Roberta is far less forgiving of herself than Twyla managed to be.

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The Orchard Symbol Timeline in Recitatif

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Orchard appears in Recitatif. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Recitatif
Friendship vs. Family Theme Icon
Outsiders, Outcasts, and the Unwanted Theme Icon
Sickness and Disability Theme Icon
Childhood vs. Adulthood Theme Icon
...little girls.” The older girls would play music on the radio and dance in the orchard, and if they caught Roberta and Twyla watching them they’d chase after them and “pull... (full context)
Outsiders, Outcasts, and the Unwanted Theme Icon
Sickness and Disability Theme Icon
Childhood vs. Adulthood Theme Icon
Twyla recalls that she would often dream about the orchard, although she’s not sure why. She claims “nothing really happened there,” aside from the older... (full context)
Friendship vs. Family Theme Icon
Outsiders, Outcasts, and the Unwanted Theme Icon
Childhood vs. Adulthood Theme Icon
...St. Bonny’s in May, and on her last day she and Twyla sit in the orchard and watch the older girls dance and smoke. Roberta seems “sort of glad and sort... (full context)
Friendship vs. Family Theme Icon
Outsiders, Outcasts, and the Unwanted Theme Icon
Sickness and Disability Theme Icon
Childhood vs. Adulthood Theme Icon
...at her. Roberta gravely responds that Maggie didn’t fall—the gar girls pushed her in the orchard on purpose and ripped her clothes. (full context)
Outsiders, Outcasts, and the Unwanted Theme Icon
Sickness and Disability Theme Icon
Childhood vs. Adulthood Theme Icon
...time, when she was 14, she ran away to avoid ending up “dancing in the orchard.” Twyla is still in disbelief that Maggie was pushed, and asked Roberta who her roommates... (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
...begin rocking it, and Twyla instinctively reaches for Roberta, “like the old days in the orchard.” Roberta, however, does not take Twyla’s hand, but simply watches. Eventually, the police force the... (full context)