For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Young Adult  |  House: Booksie Classic
This is a Reader Response Analysis of Ntozake Shange's work.

Submitted: November 10, 2009

A A A | A A A

Submitted: November 10, 2009



Karen Ellison

Critical Analysis using

Reader’s Response


For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide; When the Rainbow is Enuf


Ntozake Shange born Paulette Williams was given a gift to hear the voices and sometimes silent cries of women particularly the African American woman at an early age.  She is an American poet, playwright, and women’s activist.  With a rainbow of creativity, she created pieces of artistic history through dramatic presentations that won and were nominated for various awards and appeared in several popular magazines and anthologies.  Shange’s poem turned stage play; For the Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide; When the Rainbow is Enuf made her a household name among many Black Nationalist, feminist separatist and the likes.  As a woman of color, reading this title with such great curiosity makes one wonder, who is this hero among women and what made her choose such a title.   For Colored Girls is a series of 20 poems, referred collectively as a "choreopoem", performed through a cast of nameless women, each known only by a color: "Lady in Brown", "Lady in Yellow", etc. The poems deal with liberation, love, abandonment, rape, and abortion.  Such are the cases of the lady in brown, and the lady in yellow who voice their thoughts concerning strained relationships with men; and yet, they triumph.

My research led me to her enriched childhood where she was raised in a strong upper middle class family with both parents.  As the research continued in search of evidence of sexual molestation or abuse, we see that Ntozake was married to a law student and after a failed marriage, attempted suicide several times.  Through her strength and determination however she graduated from Barnard College with honors and later went on to gain her Masters in American Studies from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.  As Ntozake began to experience more of life and get in touch with the feminist perspective, she realized that black women across the globe needed a voice.  She was not simply a vessel to carry the female voice but she would prove to be alive with her own experiences and a cannon to the masses in order to invoke through her poetry and writing a change and an alteration to the male psyche and behavior?

 The performances of the seven actresses are focused on their specific stories.  Lady in Brown embodies youthful determination as she runs away from home to live with Haitian liberator Toussaint L’Ouverture. Instead of making it to Haiti, the young girl runs into Toussaint Jones; a boy in New Orleans around her age struggling against the same inequalities that she was trying to run away from.  At the tender age of 8 in 1955, Lady in Brown felt the pangs of racism and was determined not to be enslaved by the oppressors.  It took courage to leave home with a book of inspirations in search of a dream and emancipation.  It is evident by the following passages that the lady in brown was actually a representation of our author Ntozake-

Lady in brown “…Toussaint L’Ouverture was the beginin uv reality for me

in the summer contest for who colored child can read 15 books in three weeks

I won & raved abt Toussaint L’Ouverture at the afternoon ceremony was dis-

qualified cuz Toussaint belonged in the ADULT READING ROOM & I cried

& carried dead Toussaint home in the book he wuz dead & livin to me cuz

Toussaint & them they held the citadel gainst the french wid the spirits of ol

dead africans from outta the ground walkin cannon ball shootin spirits to free

 Haiti & they waznt slaves no more….”  “Toussaint became my secret lover at

the age of 8” (Shange 26-27)

“…Toussaint Jones wuznt too different from Toussaint L’Ouverture cept the ol

one was in Haiti & this one wid me speakin english & eatin apples yea. 

Toussaint jones waz awright wit me no tellin what all spirits we cd move down

by the river st. louis 1955 hey wait.”(Shange 30)


Every woman has a naturally nurturing and loving nature.  Somewhere in our lives, we have either given love or received love.  Because we are a species of independent, resourceful, deep thinkers, our relationships whether they be positive or negative affects our personalities in ways unimaginable to the opposite sex.  We are the best at choosing whether or not to hide our true feelings.  We are a group that when scorned, can lash out with the quickness of a tiger and the intensity of a smoldering and eternal fire.  In contrast to the feisty woman, there are also women that chose to become introverts and hold there feelings so tightly that they are inevitably consumed with feelings of deep sorrow, guilt, denial, anger, hatred, remorse and worthlessness.  When these feelings are bottled up with no outlet, they can create a feeling of despair so intense that suicide seems the only way of escape.  By Shange shadowing the mother earth as brown, she alluded to the fact that we as African American women are rich in nurturing and bearers of fruit whether worthy of love or neglected by it we are the source of life and in that, we should be proud.  We cover the earth with our yearning and its boundless possibilities.  

The Lady in Yellow is a voice screaming out to be accepted for the beautiful black woman that she is.  Perhaps after years of emotional abuse and constant put down’s, she is expressing her inner most feelings of rejection by the black man and at the same time pleading with him to see her good and meaningful soul.  She says –

I’ve lost it touch with reality/ I don’t know who’s doin it I thot I waz but I waz so stupid I waz unable to be hurt & that’s not real/ not anymore/ I shd be immune/ (she thought that her strenght made her immune to the hurts of men)  if I’m still alive & that’s what I waz discussin/ how I am still alive & my dependency on other livin beins for love I survive on intimacy & tomorrwo/ that’s all I’ve got goin & the music; relating to his love, waz like smak & you knew abt that & still refused my dance waz not enuf; refering to her love, her morals, her values regarding relationships, & it waz all I had but bein alive & being a woman & bein colored is a metaphysical dilemma/ I havent conquered yet… in other words, being a black woman in the city and keeping your composure was not something easily done by her.  She goes on to say he didn’t see the point her spirit was too ancient to understand the separation of soul and gender/ her love was too delicate to have thrown back on her face.  In this statement the Lady in Yellow can not separate her blackness from her gender.  There is a custom to being black and the key elements are strength, courage and a voice that speaks her mind.  She is saying that she comes from a long line of strong black women that did not tolerate certain things and for her, it was hard to be a black woman in love when our men were changing into a group of soulless, uncaring, hypocrites that rejected the strength and integrity of who she was.  She then resolves that her love is too delicate to have thrown back in her face.  (Shange 45)  Ntozake added this line and it is repeated using different adjectives that describe the black woman such as delicate, beautiful, sanctified, magic, Saturday night, complicated, and music. (Shange 46-47)

The end of the play brings together all of the women for “a laying on of hands,” where Shange evokes the power of womanhood as the Lady in Red begins the mantra “I found God in myself/ and I loved her/ I loved her fiercely.” (Shange 63) Each color is represented by varying degrees of emotional circumstances that very are very differently overcome by diverse personalities. 

Ntozake realized that women needed a voice to protest against the abuses of men.  Emotional abusers, rapists, physical manipulators, the one’s that reject us as women all together and anything harmful to the female anatomy not excluding her mental stature must be addressed by any means necessary in order for the puzzle of woman to be pieced back together again.  This was her way to show the world the beauty and strength we all have inside of us whether it is hidden or illuminating with the full translucent glow of life.  Every woman has all the colors of the rainbow within her soul; each of us reacting differently to circumstances beyond our control. 

According to Chaplain Patricia Williams, she advises women on different situations of stress brought on by men every day.  One instance she recalled was concerning a young girl going through a separation that ultimately ended in divorce.  Chaplain Williams recalls the girl’s despondent mood when she finally came in to speak to her about the problems she was undergoing at home.  “This girl had endured so much emotional abuse at the hands of this man that she had lost all feelings of self worth.  The young woman was extremely depressed and had no support system that she could rely on” said Williams but I could tell that she wanted to overcome these feelings.  “One positive thing I thought to myself was that she had the strength and courage to come and talk to someone”.  According to Williams, the girl told terrible tales of how her husband constantly called her “fat” and “dumb”.  “He had completely stripped this girl of her dignity…and now he was leaving her”.  (Williams)  The woman had been with her husband for 5 years and they had 2 small children.  It was mentioned that for 5 years this young woman had withstood her husband’s affairs, his drinking, his emotional abuse and his increased lack of affection.  Upon hearing of this girl’s plight, the mind immediately reflects back to Shange’s depiction of the lady in green.  Here was a girl that despite all that she had gone through, still wanted help in recovering to her former self.  She was probably secretly determined to “git her stuff back” as Shange put it, from the husband that didn’t appreciate her worth. 

According to online statistics on spousal abuse, one-third to one-half of adult women have been abused by their spouse or significant other. It is estimated that over half of the attacks on women are perpetrated by someone they know, usually a husband or a boyfriend. Domestic violence is usually a response by the male in an effort to control, physically, mentally and/or emotionally, his female partner. (Reade)  Considering the feminist movement of the 1960’s, this is an alarming fact when we consider that most abuse is never reported.  Why is it that we as women allow men to lower our self esteem or make us question our worth?  We are the mothers of the earth and therefore should be treated with the highest of esteem and honor.

Ntozake Shange knew that as a black woman she had to speak out for women of color and with her dramatic representations of the many personalities of woman, she created her choreopoems with great effect.  Her goal was to address these issues head on as she interpreted them from the many sisters of color around her community.  She saw it in there eyes, she heard it in their speech and perhaps even witnessed it among her friends.  Although there was no information found that would suggest that Shange was a recipient of such extreme abuse, she did ponder the idea of suicide as a result of a bad divorce.  However, she was able to fight back.  She realized who she was; her capabilities, her unique qualities and recaptured her dignity.  She became an advocate for victims and her theme of strength, self worth and realization rang out loudly in her work.

Works Cited

1.  Shange, Ntozake. For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf. 1st ed. New York, NY: Scribner Publishing, 1997. 26-27, 30, 45-47, 63. Print.


2.  Williams, Patricia; Chaplain, Personal Interview. 04 11 2009 O’Berry Convalescent

Center, Goldsboro, NC



3.  Reade, Candis "Statistics on Spousal Abuse." Statistics on Spousal Abuse. 13 Oct. 2008 9 Nov. 2009 <­on-­Spousal-­Abuse&id=1578447>.


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