for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf Summary

Ntozake Shange


(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

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.


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

All the ladies come onto the stage and freeze in positions of distress. The lady in brown calls upon the others to sing a black girl’s song, to give her words and to bring her out of herself. Each lady declares her origins—the lady in brown outside Chicago, the lady in yellow outside Detroit, the lady in purple outside Houston, the lady in red outside Baltimore, the lady in green outside San Francisco, the lady in blue outside Manhattan, and the lady in orange outside St. Louis. Then they begin to sing songs of infancy and childhood: “Mama’s Little Baby Likes Shortnin’ Bread” and “Little Sally Walker.”

The lady in yellow tells the story of graduation night when she was the only virgin in the crowd. She drank and danced and went out to the parking lot with Bobby, where she made love to him in the back seat of a Buick. The lady in blue then relates how, pretending she was Puerto Rican, she ran away at sixteen to the South Bronx to dance with Willie Colón, the famous salsa musician. When he did not show up at the dance hall, she got mad, refused to dance with anyone, and started yelling in English. Later she was possessed by the subtle blues of Archie Shepp, and she recited her poem as a thank-you for music that she loved “more than poem.”

The lady in red recites a note attached to a plant she gave to her lover when she ended the affair. She loved him for eight months, two weeks, and a day; was stood up four times; left him presents, poems, and plants; drove miles to see him before work; and finally decided that her experiment of debasing herself to gain love was a failure. All of the ladies then dance to Willie Colón’s “Che Che Cole”—they dance to keep from crying and to keep from dying.

A sudden light change stops the dancing, and the ladies in green, yellow, orange, and brown leave the stage. The ladies in red, blue, and purple discuss how difficult it is to press rape charges against someone you know, someone who took you out to dinner or made dinner for you and then beat you and betrayed you. The nature of rape changed; it haunts the places and people where companionship is sought. When the light again changes, the ladies are hit by an imaginary slap. The ladies in red and purple exit. The lady in blue reveals her experience of a lonely abortion. She went alone because she did not want anyone to see her or to know that she was pregnant and ashamed. After her monologue, she exits the stage.

Soft, deep music is heard and voices call “Sechita.” The lady in purple enters and describes the quadroon balls in St. Louis and the gambling boats on the Mississippi. She narrates the story of Sechita, as the lady in green dances her life. Sechita dances in a creole carnival after the wrestlers finish...

(The entire section is 1131 words.)