Created in 1975, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/ When the Rainbow is Enuf, focuses on the struggles of black women not only from that era, but issues still pertaining to black women 35 years later. Shange’s powerful choreopoem is comprised of seven women trying to “sing a black girl’s song…. Sing a song of life, she’s been dead so long”(Shange 18), creating a voice for every woman. None of these women possess a name, only a color, to show that they represent all women of color.
Shange includes themes of love, abandonment, sexuality, abortion, and domestic violence to emphasize what women in her community were and still are subjugated to. Through dance, poetry, and music these women slowly but surely find their true identity. Ntozake uses her work as a tool to empower all “colored girls” by creating these seven strong women that form a bond when they are able to find their identity as black women, and essentially in their journey make it to the end of their rainbows without committing suicide.
When looking into Shange’s life there’s no question that situations, which she had observed day-to-day or experienced herself, were imposed on her writings. Born as Paulette Williams she was raised in a middle class family, which was not a childhood common for blacks. Her family moved to St. Louis and she attended a non-segregated school where she had to endure blatant racism at the mere age of eight years old. She rebelled against her family’s satisfaction with being a part of the middle class when she still had to deal with the hardships of being black and a woman.
Realizing that in the real world there were limitations being set on blacks and women in society, produced her anger: the catalyst to her decision to write to not only empower women, but to empower and teach young girls about social issues as well. Paulette showed that women could be successful when she entered Barnard College, but during this time her happiness that stemmed from her success turned into melancholy when her husband left her and she attempted suicide many times.
She overcame this and let her voice come alive through her works. Her experience shows why the theme that runs rampant throughout her writings is for black women to rely on themselves, and to not allow themselves to become dependent on a man, for this is the only way they will become whole and attain their true identity. The girls in For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/ When the Rainbow is Enuf, like Paulette all overcome their issues when their voice is no longer silenced, and do not commit suicide.
Williams later took the African name Ntozake Shange meaning, “she who brings her own things,” and “one who walks with lions. ” She explained to Allan Wallach in Newsday that it was necessary for her to embrace a new name because she felt she was “living a lie:” “[I was] living in a world that defied reality as most black people, or most white people, understood it – in other words, feeling that there was something that I could do, and then realizing that nobody was expecting me to do anything because I was colored and I was also female, which was not very easy to deal with”(qttd.
in Wainwright). She did this to show that she was no longer Paulette Williams who society believed was a black woman who wasn’t suppose to amount to anything, and didn’t want other women to believe that black women being successful should be deemed unusual. In her essay, “is not gd to be born a girl”, she wants all women to understand that ”we pay for being born girls/ but we owe no one anything / not our labia, not our clitoris, not our lives.
we are born girls & live to be women who live our own lives/ to live our lives/ to have/ our lives/ to live”(Rothenberg 132). Her theme in this essay, that women will gain a self satisfaction only when they are able specify their own dreams without allowing society to hinder their destiny from becoming reality, is the same philosophy that is within for colored girls, and seems to be what Ntozake Shange followed in her own life. The significance of Shange’s title for this choreopoem should not be overlooked.
The title’s rich meanings gives readers an insight on what the author’s views are, and also allows the reader to imagine their own possible meanings. Shange uses the word “Colored” which calls attention to when it was once used as a derogatory term used by white oppressors. Although “Colored” was used as a derogatory term, it was also used within the black culture to bring them together. For colored girls, was used in the title to specifically target young “colored girls.
” In the beginning of the journey of the seven women they all sing, Mama’s little baby likes shortnin, shortnin, Mama’s little baby likes shortnin bread Mama’s little baby likes shortnin, shortnin, Mama’s little baby likes shortnin bread (Shange 20). From this childhood song to lady in yellow talking about her “graduation nite” where she “was the only virgin in the crowd”(Shange 21), Shange used these poems to show her readers the journey from girlhood to womanhood.
She wanted the dangers that black woman struggle to overcome, information that most parents will withhold, to be heard by these young girls: The reason that For Colored Girls is entitled For Colored Girls is that’s who it was for…I want a twelve year-old girl to reach out for and get information that isn’t just contraceptive information but emotional information…if there is an audience for whom I write, it’s the little girls who are coming of age. I want them to know that they are not alone and that we adult women thought and continue to think about them (Hamilton 79-80).
Even though Shange’s work is intended for children it is still considered inspirational for both women and girls. In addition to the word “colored” within the title, the image of the “rainbow” also holds important meanings. The rainbow symbolizes the emotional aspect, which Shange discusses. All these women go through emotional pains caused by either men or themselves, but at the end of their storm or distress they all eventually make it to the end of the rainbow that is “enuf” for them to go on without committing suicide.
The rainbow has a human form, and comes alive through the seven women that give a voice to all women. Even though there are statements from different women, Shange writes in such a way where you read each statement as a whole entity putting this rainbow of women together. The rainbow also refers to how unique each “colored girl” is, each having their own attributes that allow them to amount to something in society no matter what is believed by others.
Courtney from Study Moose
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