The story recounts the friendship of two girls, Twyla and Roberta who meet at the St. Bonny’s shelter after being abandoned by their families. Their relationship experiences both ups and downs highlight the dynamics of their respective characters as well as external circumstances. At first, they dislike each other given that because of racial politics at the time, they were socially taught to dislike and mistrust the other race. However, as children, they can overcome this, become close. In a symbolic family of their shelter, they become like sisters attached. As grown-ups, each went their separate ways, with their own families, but their relationship, with familial overtones, remained whether they were close or apart. However, each encounter after demonstrates vast differences in them, both because of race as well as power dynamics.
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For example, in their second encounter when they meet at the motel, Twyla is working behind the counter, while Roberta is with two guys, heading out west. It shows a distinct power dynamic between them, where one has to work to get by while Roberta has everything she could ever want. It stirs up resentment and potentially guilt, and both feel that there is little left of their friendship past. However, when they meet again after, they are both married with families, and they get along well despite being different in socioeconomic class.
While at the orphanage, these girls were inherently equal despite their race, and it allowed them to become so close. However, once faced with the reality of adult life and social expectations, not only does race play a role, but their respective positions of power. Roberta is inherently more powerful, being white, rich, having the influence and appeal. It is this power balance that the women have experienced during various stages of their life that affected their friendship, more so than race. Whenever they are on relatively equal ground, sharing intimate moments such as a dinner or encounter at a grocery store, that does not divide them by class, their relationship is warm. However, when placed in circumstances of evident class divide or opposition on issues, they become increasingly distant, although both realize that they need each other as part of their identity.