Hidden Voices Unveiled in Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls

After reading For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf by Ntozage Shange, I was left in a state of awe.  Compacted into this choreopoem are so many deep messages about the life and struggle of women of color.  The main recurring themes I noticed throughout For Colored Girls… were issues dealing with silencing, feeling like an outsider, womanhood, love, racial identity, domestic violence, sexual harassment, rape, and pain.  Throughout the choreopoem, Shange “[encompasses]…every feeling and experience a woman has ever had”, according to a praise from The New Yorker.

As a reader, I was able to tell that her poems came from somewhere deep within.  Through her writing, Shange is “capable of brutal honesty, deep solace and heartbreaking vulnerability,” which draws the reader in, allowing us to clearly understand the strong emotions Shange portrays in the text.  While I was pulled in by Shange’s moving poetry, I couldn’t completely appreciate the entire choreopoem since when I was done reading it, I did not fully understand all of the poems.  I also believe the choreopoem would have had a greater effect on me if I were to see it acted out live.  Nonetheless, what I did take away from the text were issues faced by many women in our society that I was able to personally relate to.

One poem that stood out to me in the chreopoem is the one Lady in Brown recites about Toussaint L’ouverture.  Very different from all of the other poems that explore the hardships faced by women, this poem is from the perspective of a young girl and portrays the effects oppression has on women of color even at an early age.  The narrator idolizes Toussaint L’ouverture.  He is almost like a hero for her because according to her, he was her “first blk man,” meaning he was the first black man she knew of that didn’t succumb to white supremacy and actually fought for the rights of black people (26).  Toussaint L’ouverture offers her an escape and a solution to get away from the problems she faced.  As a young girl, this narrator has already been affected by oppression inflicted upon women of color.  I found it interesting that she makes the point to say she is running away from her “integrated home, integrated street, [and] integrated school” because one might think everything were okay if it is “integrated” (27).  However, that wasn’t the case, for “1955 waz not a good year for lil blk girls” (27).  This young girl was driven to the point where she turned to a figure who was no longer alive and whom she didn’t know for hope and guidance.  The main message I believe Shange is trying to convey in this poem is the need for women of color to question and break free from the system of oppression.

The one poem I really connected to was the one recited by Lady in Blue about moving to and living in Harlem.  This poem discusses the feelings/emotions of a woman who is sexually harassed on a daily basis on the street of her neighborhood.  I was able to relate to this poem because of the many times I have been sexually harassed in my neighborhood, which happens to be Harlem as well.  The poem starts off with the line, “I usedta live in the world, then i moved to HARLEM & my universe is now six blocks” (36).  This line is repeated several times throughout the poem and signifies how the sexual harassment she has experienced in her neighborhood has entrapped her.  She can no longer freely walk the streets as just “a woman in the world” (37).  She is a target, a victim.  As a result, she must be an introvert so as not to be noticed by men in the street.  She “can’t be nice to nobody” because it is only “a set-up” to be targeted for sexual harassment.  I can completely relate to this, as when I am on the street, I feel as though I am closed in.  I purposefully look down when I walk so as not to make eye contact with any man because 9 out of 10 times, when I do make eye contact with a male on the street they say something to me.

In reading For Colored Girls… I really appreciated Ntozake Shange’s use of dance in the choreopoem.  Dance is a vital part of the choreopoem that further helps to express the emotions of the characters.  When Shange performed in productions of the play during the 1970’s “she continually revised and refined the poems and the movements in her search to express a female black identity.” Dance becomes very important for the women in the text because they are silenced.  Therefore, it serves as a way for them to convey their messages.  The body motions of the women, as described in the stage directions throughout the choreopoem, directly correlate to the feelings being expressed in that particular scene.  For example, in the beginning of the text, when all the women run on to the stage “they all freeze in postures of distress” (3).  This sets up the entire chorepoem by giving physicality to the struggles discussed in the text.  Towards the end of the choreopoem, their dancing and motions reflect their finding of self-love and empowerment.

The last image of the women in the choreopoem is that of them in a “closed tight circle,” followed by the line of “& this is for colored girls who have considered suicide/ but are movin to the ends of their own rainbows” (64).  This is a powerful lasting image of the text that portrays sisterhood and unity.  In sharing their stories, each woman in the choreopoem was able to move past the rainbow made of up of their colorful emotions and struggles, to the end where they were able to reclaim themselves as women of color.

3 thoughts on “Hidden Voices Unveiled in Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls

  1. Meiling, one poem that stood out to me was also the lady in brown talking about Toussaint L’ouverture. It was the only poem that spoke of true happiness and innocence, because it was seen through a child’s eyes. I agree that Shange is saying that “women of color [need] to question and break free from their system of oppression,” but I also think she is trying to show the innocence of childhood, and how much more simple it can be for them. For the lady in brown, when she was a child and didn’t like her school, home or neighborhood, she ran away with her imaginary friend, and it turned out alright, for the duration of the poem. However, for the grown women, it is more complicated for them to run away, because they have so much more to think about. I believe Shange is trying to contrast the situations of adults and children of color.

  2. Wow, I also enjoyed Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf. There are just so many parts of the book that are moving and so many parts that I could relate to. The line “I usedta live in the world, then I moved to HARLEM; my universe is now six blocks” also struck a cord with me because I have seen and been in many different universes and it is shocking to think about how six similar blocks can be so different from another six blocks. I think this post was very well written and you were not the only person left in a state of awe after reading this play.

  3. Meiling, I loved your post. When you said that Toussaint L’ouverture was a hero for the lady, I felt that way as well. I feel that because she had no one else, she had him. It also on some level reminds me of The Bluest Eye, where she created her own friend inside her head. She had that one friend that was there for her when no one else would, while the lady in the book imagined Toussaint L’ouverture was with her and that he was her hero.

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