For colored girls who have considered suicide/ when the rainbow is enuf, Ntozake Shange’s first work, tells the stories of seven women who have suffered oppression in a racist and sexist society. The choreopoem is an innovative combination of poetry, drama, music, and dance. For Shange, the combination is important. She learned about her identity as a woman through words, songs, and literature; she learned about her identity as an African through dance.
The seven women are not named; they are meant to stand for the women who make up the rainbow. They are called “lady in brown,” “lady in red,” and so on. Each tells her own story. The stories are interwoven together. As the women tell their stories, they reflect on what it means to be a woman of color, what chances and choices they have. These women are in pain; they are angry. They have been abused by their lovers, their rapists, their abortionists, and they have been driven to the brink of despair. What strength they have left they find in music and in each other.
Many have criticized the play for being too negative toward black men, but Shange has always attempted to direct the focus of the discussion back on the women. The play is about the women, about who they are and what they have experienced. To insist on a “balanced” view of the men in their lives is to deny these women’s experiences. These women deserve a voice. The play, she insists, does not accuse all black men of being abusive. These women are not rejecting men or seeking a life without men. The women desire men and love them, and ache for that love to be returned.
Although the stories these women tell are tales of struggle, the play is ultimately uplifting. The seven women grieve, but they also celebrate their lives, their vitality, their colorfulness. As the play ends, the women recite, one at a time and then together: “i found god in myself/ & i loved her/ i loved her fiercely.” These women are not entirely powerless; they have the power of their own voices. They find the courage to tell their stories and thus triumph.