For Colored Girls: Giving a Voice to Silenced Stories

For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf by Ntozake Shange is a choreopoem that focuses mainly on the bare reality of what it is like to live life through the experiences of a 20th century woman of color. It is made up of “20 poems for seven actors on the power of black women to survive in the face of despair and pain.” The book is structured through stage directions which help amplify the already shockingly powerful poetry of this work.

The piece was first performed in 1974 in California after two years of hard work and creation. In the 1980 Bantam Books edition which I read, Shange ends her forward with this inspiring message: “I am on the other side of the rainbow/ picking up the pieces of days spent waiting for the poem to be heard/ while you listen/ i have other work to do/” (xvi). This beautiful passage sums up the experiences depicted in the text. The poems are dramatic, innovative, heartfelt and powerful.

The choreopoem begins with the lady in brown stating the first line, which I believe to be one of the most poweful, the “dark phrases of womanhood,” (3). This simple line embodies this writing so well as it expresses the empty passion, the blind power, the inability for women of color to truly express themselves in the oppressive environment that are caught in. This is one of the many passages that as The New York Times agrees, “Ntozake Shange writes with such exquisite care and beauty that anyone can relate to her message.” I completely agree with this statement. The writing is not exclusive for one race/class/gender to feel and connect with. It is to inspire and express to everyone, to help everyone open their eyes to the injustices felt, and still being felt by so many women of color today.

I personally resonated with the lady in blue when she expresses; “round midnite, praying won’t no young man, thank i’m pretty in a dark mornin,” (37). She goes onto describe how the stranger, solely because of his gender, will be “fulla his power,” (37). A power, that I can relate to being intimidating as I have felt it in personal experiences of street harassment. At this point in the book, I really did feel a connection to the cause being addressed and a relationship with the characters. There are so many different aspects touched on by this plays performance that it is impossible not to feel a certain degree of empathy with the ideas and stories being expressed.

The poems expressing many stories covering areas from love, abandonment to rape and abortion, is one that also seems to end in a feel of liberation. It is as if these women, of many colors, backgrounds, life experiences, have all found themselves and through that a peace which is their personal ‘gold’ at the end of the rainbow. There is also an “unusual beauty in its fierce message to the world.” The idea of the rainbow itself brings into play the idea of the importance of unity in these women’s fights for justice. No one color can exist solely as a rainbow, and no rainbow can exist missing a color. In regard to this, the women’s struggle is united and all related causes. Bringing in the idea of intersectionality, in which all their causes relate and overlap in the issues they are so oppressed by through society.

I character of the the lady in brown one of the most interesting. Her color is what made her stand out to me so boldly. She is the color produced when you mix all the colors of the rainbow together. The end result, the overall summary. She is the first to speak, and the last. I find this important as she therefore helps narrate the story in a way as she encompasses all the emotions and feelings of women. This combination therefore seems to suggest that the lady in brown represents this intersectionality of the colors.

Another piece of revolutionary literature is that of “Poetry is Not Luxury,” by Audre Lorde (1977). Lorde’s poetry can be strongly linked to the work of Shange’s. In one excerpt from her poem, Lorde writes, “poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence,” as women. Similarly, on page 15 or Shange’s choreopoem, the lady in yellow and the lady in brown express “we gotta dance to keep from crying, we gotta dance to keep from dyin.” Through their artistic expression women are able to convey themselves. It is a form of emotion, spirit, and passion that is vital for all women to have a voice. It is “a custom to being black and the key elements are strength, courage and a voice that speaks her mind.” As Lorde states, females do not want literature and forms of art expression to help them grow and stay strong, they need it, it is necessary for any form of survival.

This choreopoem, For Colored Girls, Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf is an enlightening text that is full of rich and powerful emotion that not only sheds light on the problems felt through the experiences of young women of color in the 20th century, but can also strongly have a voice today in out patriarchical world. I think that through this work, Shange has expressed that although a rainbow may seem a mirage or an untouchable idea, it is the power and spirit within one’s self which is necessary to keep us going. Through spreading the stories on this performance, there is a sense of unity, and therefore power, which the reader is left with at the end of this moving text.

5 thoughts on “For Colored Girls: Giving a Voice to Silenced Stories

  1. Grace, first I must say this is a really great response to the book. You offer a lot of insight on the text that helped me to see it in a new light. I also related to the poem in the text that talks about sexual harassment, as I wrote about in my blog post as well. I felt really connected to this poem because the feelings and emotions expressed in this poem I have too felt when I am walking alone in the street.
    I agree with you that the poems in the text reach out and relate to many women regardless of their race, background, or class, which is a reason why I believe this text is very powerful. Although Ntozake Shange purposefully wrote this text to express the hardships faced by women of color, I feel like it speaks to many other people as well.
    I also really like your analysis of the symbolism of the rainbow in the text and how it signifies their unity and intersectionality. I never thought about it that way. But it makes a lot of sense, since we see at the end of the text the empowerment and sisterhood that evolves from the sharing of all their stories.

  2. The lady in blue’s line about “praying won’t no young man, think I’m pretty in a dark mornin,” is something that truly resonated with me because there have been MANY times when I have thought the same thing while walking home in the dark or down an empty street. I think that it is sad that solely because of gender some people think they have the power to do as they please. This also reminded me the street harassment segment of the minimester we were a part of and proved to me that this is a problem for longer then we have been alive and that we are not the only ones, and that we are not an exception. Ntozake Shange explores many different things throughout the play, but what I think is most important that we take away from the play is sisterhood and unity and knowing that we are stronger together then we are alone.

  3. Grace, as I read your blog post there were many parts I agreed with that I hadn’t thought about before. One of the thoughts in your post that I really agreed with was this idea that the writing is not exclusive and that everyone can relate to it in some way. I know that even though I may not have experienced the same things these women in the choreopoem have, I can understand their emotions because of how beautifully written the piece is. I also agree that the piece was very inspiring and Ntozake Shange did very well with expressing some experiences some color women go through. I also liked the connection you made between the Lady in Blue’s poem and your own personal experience of street harassment. I think it adds on to this idea that anyone can relate to For Colored Girls. I liked your interpretation of the rainbow and how it could relate to or represent this idea of unity and how important it is. I think you support this idea nicely when you talk about how all the colors together make the rainbow and that if one color is missing the rainbow is incomplete. I found your blog post very interesting to read and it definitely gave me some new ways to look at the piece.

  4. I found it quite interesting how you brought up the lady in blue because I feel that the concentration of analysis has been on the lady in brown. Though the lady in brown is specifically a important character, I am glad that you shone some light on one of the other women’s stories. I found it interesting to how you connected her story to something very personal to as street harassment. I also found it interesting how you talked about the rainbow would not be complete without each color which means that every one of the women is part of the puzzle of the completed rainbow.

  5. I think that’s what is important about this choreopoem is that it is ‘raw.’ Being completely honest opens up the scars so that there is better healing by the reader and the woman reciting her poem. I sometimes feel as if the book isn’t just for women of color but it could also be just anyone with struggles. The book for me is a bit of an anchor where everyone can feel secure and safe having this community of people with struggles. They can each support each other even if they don’t share the same exact hardships. I also felt that it was fitting to have the ‘lady in brown’ to give the ‘prologue’ of the play since she isn’t actually a part of the rainbow. I feel there is a common thread of empowerment from everyone. I think Shange has done her job of creating a poem where people can share personal experiences and become stronger people.

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