For Colored Girls: For Everyone

When first picking up For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf, I was confused as to what I would be reading. The first time I had ever heard of the (partial) title is through Tyler Perry’s movie, “For Colored Girls.” His movies usually consist of melodramatic, adult issues, and I never had much interest in those particular movies. I was finally told that there was a play before Perry’s version, and that it (the original) was quite good.

The characters are black women, with the names: lady in blue, lady in green, lady in red, lady in purple, lady in brown, and lady in yellow. The first thing that popped in my head when hearing the names was “like ‘Reservoir Dogs’?” because all the men’s names are Mr., followed by a color, to establish anonymity between them.

All the women have a story to tell, such as abortion, rape, the loss of virginity, and the loss of children by the hands of an angry man. Most of the stories consist of heartache, loss, and sadness. It is, in whole, a sad book. No, calling it “sad” is not the correct way to describe it. For Colored Girls is a set of beautifully intertwined stories that eventually tie up, leaving the line, “& this is for colored girls who have considered suicide/ but are movin to the ends of their own rainbows.” This last line resonates with me, and leaves me with a feeling of confusion, sadness, and hope. Everything described in these poems is something that most people can relate to. It is not only “for colored girls,” but for any person, who has felt some emotion or experienced an event depicted in this book.

The only story that was not sad, but ended with something happy, was told by the lady in brown. This young girl that she describes is in love with Toussaint L’ouverture, and had him as her imaginary friend. He told her to go to Haiti, and leave her home behind. She happily accepted, and meets a young boy whose name is also Toussaint. They become friends. And that is the end of the story. This poem stuck with me the most because of how different the ending was compared to the others. I still cannot comprehend why Ntozake Shange would include that type of story in bunch. It seems a bit out of place, yet it works. Perhaps it has some correlation with the innocence of childhood, because the rest of the poems are about adulthood, and the hardships that come with it. I believe it is to show how easy it can sometimes be for children, and to demonstrate some sort of contrast between the two age groups, and how things can go terribly wrong.

Shange wrote these poems to “[encompass]… every feeling and experience woman has ever had.” They depict a connection between every women, demonstrating a sisterhood, and the fact that they are not alone. The part of the title “Who Have Considered Suicide,” is a no-brainer: there are women who have considered suicide because of the tolls the experiences shown in the book have on the real women in the world. The part “When the Rainbow is Enuf” is what is tricky, and I’m not going to even try right now to understand what that means. But the book is not only to provide some comfort for the women who have gone through this experiences, but to provide a voice for them. Because those women, who have to go through abortions, rape and abusive husbands, are not cared for as much in the world. It is a sad, but true, fact. If the world did care, there would always be a shoulder to cry on, or some alternative for these women, rather than suicide. And that is why Shange wrote this play: to provide consolation and a voice for women who need it.

Shange’s unique writing provides a “complicated, thought-provoking [depiction] of black people in a multilayered way.” This is definitely not a book to read in just an hour (which I did, but I’m just good like that). Yes, it is only sixty pages, but For Colored Girls has complex language that you must study, and wait for the meaning to bloom in your mind, otherwise you will not understand the book, and probably not like it. The writing is not boring, and has a certain zest that captures your attention. The biting language is perfect with the messages that each poem has. Shange’s writing “has reflections of everyone, not only black women,” and is open for any person to connect with it. The emotions and feelings expressed by the women in the poems can all be shared with most people, which adds to the universal, yet intimate feel of the play.

4 thoughts on “For Colored Girls: For Everyone

  1. Olivia, I completely agree, although there are obviously stories in this I cannot relate to, the issues being addressed and the power of the sisterhood between these girls is clearly evident though Shange’s choreopoem. The variety in emotions expressed make it impossible for the reader to walk away without resonating with the book on some personal level. I like how you discuss how the book is not just about sharing the stories, but finding the power behind them to carry on with the support of others and our own bravery. I think you’ve done a great job in depicting the accessibility of this book to all different kinds of readers.

  2. Olivia, although I think it is a crucial aspect to leave the reader resonating with the book on some level, as you and Grace have distinctly mentioned, I must add that, for me, the most important aspect of the book was to, as you put it, “provide consolation and a voice for women who need it.”

    The ideal is that yes, we can all read what has been written and yes, we can all see what is going on. However does that mean we can really relate to it on a personal level? After finishing the play I believe what made it so outstanding and unique in nature was the fact I could not say that I had been there or done that. That I had not been a part of the things that they were talking about like rape and the loss of children. These things were the stories of individuals and not necessarily stories shared around the world. Why is this important to note? I feel it is important to note because one of the reasons that this play received so many controversial reviews was the fact that everyone interpreted the stories differently. Everyone could relate to the stories on some level like I mentioned earlier, yet not everyone could relate on the same level.

    Now I am not saying that there aren’t those who read the play and agreed on how they felt. I am just saying that Shange, who had taught in multiple universities all around America, intended for there to be different thoughts on the play. Look at the fact that there are those who criticized the play solely based on the style in which it was written. Those who could not get past the fact that words were not spelled correctly. Shange was playing with the ideals of how people would see her play on different levels.

    On another note, I agree with you that we should explore the relationship which the lady in brown finds with Toussaint Jones who is in comparison with Toussaint L’Ourverture. What color of the rainbow is this? What did she intend people to think of this part of the play? It is crucial because like you said it is one of the “happier ending” story lines. Yet not a word was put in this play without major thought being put behind it. So obviously there is a reason in which the lady in brown goes through this.

  3. Olivia, I really enjoyed this blog post. Your point about the play being for everyone and not only for colored girls, was intriguing and convincing. I especially want to comment on the title of the book and the meaning of “when the rainbow was enuf”. Indeed, the title confused me at first and left me wondering whether the book is going to explain it. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), it did not, and the line “when the rainbow was enuf” was not a part of the book. Hence, we are left alone attempting to interpret and understand the title. I saw the title as: For Colored Girls Who Have Attempted Suicide when the Pain was Unbearable. Each color signifies a woman, a story, pain. Red symbolizes failed love and abandonment, blue symbolizes rape and abortion. All these colors symbolize hardships that the women underwent. When the rainbow, a collection of all the suffering, was intolerable the women considered ending their lives. I believe that the word “rainbow” means different things as the book goes on. In the title it might be negative, but by the end of the book, a rainbow is a source of empowerment that each woman encompasses. Each woman learned how to use her sorrow and pain in order to become a stronger individual. This is merely one interpretation of the Ntozake Shange’s choice of title, and I’m sure that there are many more. However, it is clear that colors are a significant, meaningful and expressive part of the play. Therefore, it is important to look at the word “rainbow” in relation to the way Shange uses colors.

  4. First, Olivia this is a really interesting response to the book. I agree with your comment that says, “It is not only “for colored girls,” but for any person, who has felt some emotion or experienced an event depicted in this book.” The experiences these women have had are obviously not something that is easily relatable but is possible, through Shange’s writing, to empathize and attempt an understanding of their situations, as different as they are from mine. I also think it’s great that you went on to say, “Shange wrote these poems to ‘[encompass]… every feeling and experience woman has ever had.’ That right there is the reason that it reaches women of every color and age. The feeling of sisterhood and womanly love in this book is obvious. The women are all one part of a larger rainbow, making each woman who reads it imagine themselves as a part of a large whole of women in society.

    i also agree with your understand of the words “Who Have Considered Suicide” in the title. I am so glad that Lidor posted her understanding of what “When the Rainbow is Enuf” means because the way she worded her reading of it is so beautiful and easy to grasp. I too saw the title as meaning something similar to “For Colored Girls Who Have Attempted Suicide when the Pain was Unbearable.” However, I instead saw the two titles as completely separate names. As if she both tiles were necessary in conveying what the book was about. I think that, as Lidor pointed out, rainbows are used throughout the book as a source of empowerment, and that the title When the Rainbow is Enuf, is meant to mean that these women did not commit suicide because of the power the rainbow gave them. The rainbow being all the colors of all the girls combined and strengthened to give them a voice.

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