Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies

"What the Hell Happened to Maggie?": Stereotype, Sympathy, and Disability in Toni Morrison's "Recitatif"

Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies (2011), 5, (2), 137–154.

Abstract

The article shows that, while the "no pity" position justifiably opposes representations of the disabled that reinforce the perceived weaknesses of the disabled population, there are alternative ways of looking at the role played by sympathy in response to disabled characters in fiction, as is emphasized by an examination of Toni Morrison's short story "Recitatif." While the narrative's dependence on the implicitly disabled character Maggie for its effects suggests that she serves a "prosthetic" role in the development of the protagonists' (and readers') sympathy, the article argues that "Recitatif" makes a significant move in guiding readers toward a more complex view of Maggie's identity, as well as a level of sympathetic engagement that effectively transcends her apparently prosthetic function. Thus, it is demonstrated that a rigid rejection of sympathetic responses to disabled characters denies readers an important opportunity to develop "a cultivated imagination for what men have in common and a rebellion at whatever unnecessarily divides them" (Dewey, 121).

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Sklar, Howard