Is the “Rainbow Enuf” to Prove It Is Hard Being a “Colored Girl”?

The book For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/ When the Rainbow is Enuf explores the hardships of women of color in America by sharing their story in a very interesting format. I was excited to see what the title had to do with anything. For me it was a strange title and I just did not have a clue of what Ntozake Shange was possibly referring to.

The next surprise was seeing the grammar used in the play. It was difficult at first to try to decipher the language, but I became used to it. Later in the book, I would discover what power a format like this would have.

The initial information you receive about these women of color (literally), is that they are from all over America, including: “chicago…detroit…houston…baltimore…san francisco…manhattan…[and]st. louis”.

I noticed that there was repetition of the use ‘outside’ when they were stating where they were from. Being ‘outside’ gives the reader a sense that they are on the ‘outside’ of other things besides location, maybe education, the American dream, or maybe they are ‘outside’ of the ‘dinner conversation’. One thing that really works for the play is not giving too much information about the women’s background. I felt that have these color ‘blobs’ of a women possibly made the play more relevant for more people. For example, the colors used do not refer to any specific race/ethnicity. I also liked that Shange gravitated towards more general themes that you can relate to in a much broader way.

The grammar for me was like the communication gap between the ‘haves & have nots’. For someone who is reading the play, I am assuming that they ‘have’ an education. The writing itself seems to be written by someone who does not have an education (I am not talking about Ntozake Shange). Writing what hasn’t been transformed into ‘literature’ gives the reader the experience of trying to delve into the lives of these women. The deciphering is also the act of looking for the stories, looking for the human piece in these stories. We need to ask ourselves: in what way is their story like yours or mine?

I felt a connection with the story of the ‘lady in blue’. From a couple of lines: “mambo, bomba, merengue…/my papa thot he was puerto rican”, I get the sense that she is a Latina woman. The other connection I had with the ‘lady in blue’ is that she lives “outside of manhattan”. For me, the ‘lady in blue’ represents a person who split between two cultures and cannot manage to keep both sides a part of her. She still “talked english loud”, but she “[doesn’t] know what anybody waz saying”.

I was moved to tears (actually) when I had realized what happened to the ‘lady in red’. Shange and actors did their job of portraying this depressing story. I was not the only one who found true sadness in her piece of the play. The evil playfulness of the father had hit me hard. He “jumped up a laughin & a gigglin” knowing what his next move would be. The next movements in this story dropped down my body to the bottom of my gut: “Naomi reachin for me/ & kwame screamin mommy mommy from the fifth story/ but i cd only whisper/ & he dropped em”. The picture painted was of a maternal moment ruined and stomp on by the monster of a father. There was a tenderness that latched on to me immediately and to see the tenderness fall out that window was painful. This part of the play seems to stand out from the rest for many.

Although I won’t be seeing the play For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf, an interesting observation about the play is that the play is very uplifting. There is a lot of dancing and singing, though there is nothing joyful about rape, being left out, having an identity crisis, or the death of a child. I feel left out myself. I think my experience watching the play would be much better than reading the play. I was not getting the entire experience that Shange probably wanted me to have. I left the book feeling as if something was missing.

Shange has given these seven women the megaphone to share their stories with everyone. Feminism tries to do the same for those who don’t have a loud enough voice to be heard. The publishing of the book is like the sharing the megaphone with those who do not have one. A way feminism proves its point to find solutions to problems is by tapping into the personal stories to make it political.

By the end of the play, I think I might have figured out what the title means. I see the rainbow as the six other stories of hardship and pain. The ‘colored girls’ feel that they are alone and helpless when they see that only a few other women are having the same feelings and at the same time feeling helpless knowing that other women are having the same struggles.

6 thoughts on “Is the “Rainbow Enuf” to Prove It Is Hard Being a “Colored Girl”?

  1. Steven,
    I really like your close reading of the choreopoem in terms defining the women from all different parts of the US. I think this gives a feel to how widespread female oppression is. As the colors of a rainbow are all distinctly different, yet blends together, so do these women and their experiences. I agree with you on about the lady in red’s story. When reading this specific poem my heart began to beat faster as you could feel the blind anticipation growing. The shocking and horrific ending to it was so moving I had to read it several times before fully being able to understand what I had read.

  2. Steven, I love your post. Your interpretation of the way she uses language is something that I agree with, also how you did not get the full experience from merely reading the play, rather than watching it happen in front of you.
    The way Shange uses the English language means two things for me: 1) It is more of a direction, so the women speak more casually and realistically and 2) It is a rebellious move against the rules of the English language, where the grammar or spelling is not important, but the symbolism and phrases she uses are.
    The fact that we get less of an experience from reading the plays is absolutely true. However, I also feel that we benefit greatly from reading the book, as we can view the language more clearly. Also, if we were to watch the play at first, we would probably be a bit confused to what was going on, because, let’s face it: this is not an easily-understable book.
    In closing, I really like your post, because of the way you wrote it (you should be a writer lol) and the points you made.

  3. Steven, I found your blog post informative and fascinating. You raised a lot of good points, which I didn’t even notice when reading the play for the first time. First of all, your point that all the women are outside large urban cities is very important. Ntozake Shange makes it clear that the women in the play, women of color, are outsiders in society. Even if they are close to people who belong, they will never completely fit in. It reminded me of The Scarlet Letter, and how Hester Prynne was forced to live outside of the boundary of the city. It is a clear demonstration of being an outsider and feeling unwanted. Since women of color were not given a voice, they weren’t aware that they aren’t the only ones going through these horrific experiences. The book gives them a voice and proves to them that they aren’t lonesome. Therefore they are no longer on the outside, isolated from the rest of society. In addition, I completely agree with your point about the vagueness of racial identity. I felt as though the colors made race and ethnicity open-ended, and allowed everyone to relate to the women. I don’t know whether or not Shange used this to target a broader audience, but I believe it was very effective.

  4. The poem that you spoke about recited by the Lady in Red, where her kids were killed by the father also really stood out to me in the text as well. Reading that poem had the greatest emotional effect on me more than any of the other pieces in the chorepoem. Although I wasn’t brought to tears, I literally sat in a state of complete shock with my jaw wide open after having read that poem. The poem aroused an emotional attachment to the mother and her children for me. Reading about her struggle and fight for her children against the violent father made me want her to get through it ok. I think what also fostered the emotional impact the poem had on me, was how towards the end, everything seemed to be okay and I actually believed the father would change. Due to this, what happens at the end came as a shock to me. The mother soon becomes helpless and shrinks in the power of the father who ends up killing their children.

  5. Steven, After reading your blog post there was one comment you made out of all the other interesting observations you made that I thought was really interesting which was the fact that Ntozake Shange doesn’t give too much background information. Even though I read the play and didn’t know much about the women except for what the pieces described about them I hadn’t really thought about it. I definitely agree that not knowing the background information of each character made more people able to relate to certain women or to the play. I also think it is important that Ntozake Shange did that on purpose because that way the readers aren’t distracted by the race or class of the characters and can focus on the messages the characters are trying to express in the poems. I also agree that probably seeing the play acted out would help me understand the poems better because I would get to see how the dances are supposed to be danced and how the stage directions are carried out. I also didn’t know all the songs Ntozake Shange was referring to in the stage directions when I read the play so I think seeing the play would help me have a more complete experience. But I am definitely glad that I read the choreopoem because it opened my eyes to a lot of emotions and hardships I wasn’t aware of.

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