Style and Technique
Although the narrator refers to herself as “I” when she directly addresses the reader, the story is really a third-person narration that shifts from omniscient to limited and back to omniscient. The story seems to be told by a woman talking intimately with friends, almost gossiping, about people she knows. At times the narrator speculates about what a character thinks (the white seducer may have been blinded by his power), editorializes (Minna sold her body to her seducer because her family was starving), and shifts from anecdotes to detailed conversations.
Because Era’s first husband is essentially a type, he is unnamed, as are the white seducer and Era’s brother; names are reserved for women and significant black men. The incident with the first husband is intended to make an obvious point about racism, so there are few details; but the story of the second husband is more developed because the narrator needs to have Era voice the narrator’s thoughts about the way black men treat black women.
To preserve the informal, vernacular style, Cooper’s characters speak with appropriate dialects, and she uses frank descriptions (the white seducer “rode her all morning”). “Color Me Real” is a cautionary tale about the dangers of not knowing one’s identity, not understanding the importance of feeling, and not understanding that “reality” is emotional rather than physical.
“Color Me Real” may not seem like a standard short story in terms of its plot or characterization, but it does use traditional literary devices. Seeing and feeling are recurring motifs, and the garden is used symbolically. The only man who gardens is George, who makes flowers bloom. Working together in the garden brings Era and George closer together and makes Era bloom. The fertility in the garden contrasts with the sterility Era finds in New York and Chicago; Cooper juxtaposes the positive values of the country and the negative values of the city. Era and George have beautiful brown (not black or white) children, live on the “brown earth” and work in their garden, which almost acquires edenic status. Their most important “crop” consists of “love and a peace of mind.”