Ntozake Shange’s Exploration of Rape in For Colored Girls

Reading Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf, has made a lasting impact on me. Shange was born as Paulettle L. Williams in Trenton, New Jersey in 1948, she wrote For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf as a protest about the treatment of African-American women by the men of their race,” but for many, this play means so much more.

This choreopoem explores the “progressing from childhood innocence to adult disillusionment, anguish and redemption” as the Pittsburgh City Papers states. This play shows all that women of color go through in everyday life and in growing up in this world.

For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf explores the pains of womanhood, the domestic violence, the sexual harassment, the rape and oppression that women experience in their life. This is the story of how these women “survive in the face of despair and pain” and how women of today have the strength to do so too. Shange’s seven powerful stories are ones that all women can relate to in someway or another, whether is it the pressure “to be hot” or the struggle with the definition of rape, as there are parts of this play that resonate with all of us (9).

I found so many parts of this play painfully eye-opening and real that it is hard to sit here and resist the temptation to quote the entire text. I saw parts of me in so many of these women and I know I am not the only one, as this play is truly timeless because the hardships that women experience will not change. The feeling of needing to be hot, to live up to the standards of those around you, the shame that we all feel at certain points in our lives is something that will not change, but what this play does change, what it shows is that we are not alone in this.

This play showed me that I am not the only person who has ever felt the need fit in, I am not the only one who has ever felt ashamed by my actions, I am not the only woman who has grappled with the definition of rape, and that I am not the only person who has said “this hurts & nobody came” (22-23). This play had showed me that no matter how alone you feel, no matter how down you are, there are women who have been in that same place. This play has showed me that you are never alone.

A part of the play that resonated with me most was when the women discuss pressing charges against a friend. The lines “If you knew him you must have wanted it… a rapist is always to be a stranger… someone you never saw” reflect in many ways what we are taught a rapist is. Society has defined a rapist as someone who is a “stranger,”so we question circumstances that go outside those lines (17). Rape is not black or white, as nothing in life is, but that’s what we are told, so when we are hurt by those we know and even love, we are told it is not rape because it does not fit into the mold society has created.

We must be the perfect victim if it is to be rape, we must attend church every Sunday and we must cover our legs and backs. If you’re in heels and your clothes are tight and you have make-up on, you asked for that strange man to rape you, and if it’s someone you know, then you deserved it. I can imagine it’s almost too painful to accept that we can be “betrayed by men that know us,” or the thought of someone you love, someone you know and trust taking advantage of you is perhaps too much, so we classify rape as an act by a stranger.

We also classify rape as something vicious and brutal. We think that after a rape you have to be hospitalized, bones need to be popped back into place, faces need to be reconstructed, all of these things need to be done to fix you, but the bruise on the inside is what takes longest to heal and that bruise is not always accompanied with broken bones. Not everyone is left battered and bruised after a rape so we tell ourselves it’s not rape, that it was something else. We tell ourselves that it was a “misunderstanding”; if it had been rape, then more then our hearts would ache.  But as times have changed, “it turns out the nature of rape has changed.”

Shange explores many areas of the pain and grief of colored girls and through this choreopoem, she shows us that because of this pain we can become stronger. At the end of the play, Shange has the ladies softly repeat the words: “I found god in myself & I loved her/ I loved her fiercely” and it turns into “a song of joy.” I found it powerful and motivating that after these women shared their stories of pain and struggle and after all they had been through, they still had it in them to sing and rejoice. The way Shange stages the end of the play with the ladies singing these lyrics in a “closed tight circle” makes me feel as though these women might have been through a lot and experienced a lot of pain, but together these women are strong and can get through anything.

Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf is a play I will not soon forget and that has changed me in more ways then I ever thought a book could.

2 thoughts on “Ntozake Shange’s Exploration of Rape in For Colored Girls

  1. There are very few books that leave a lasting impression, and this was one of them. I definitely agree that this book is SO much more than just the relationship between women of color and men. There were more things discussed in the book. I felt like Shange did hit various points that hit the community hard. I felt like she covered almost everything. Question: Do you think she covered all the topics? I also felt an empowerment by reading this. You would expect that by these horrible stories you would be disheartened. It’s always interesting to see what is the media’s definition of rape. In movies, the definition of rape tends to be that a stranger the person doesn’t know that violates them. I feel like literature wants to stay away from that and make people more aware that rape is actually more common between relatives. I agree that rape comes in many different forms, maybe a person was not ready, maybe the person was convinced for a split second, it doesn’t have to be blood and pain.

  2. I really liked the lines where you stated that “This play showed me that I am not the only person that has ever felt the need fit in, I am not the only one that has ever felt ashamed by my actions…” and I feel like this is a reality among all of us. You don’t have to be a woman in order to feel moved by For Colored Girls.., you don’t have to be black, you don’t have to have experienced rape or abortion. This book is about so much more than that; although it does touch upon those sensitive and taboo topics, anyone who feels like they have had issues with their identity, with their bodies, with their lives can relate and be transformed and impacted by this book.

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