“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
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.
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.
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.