For Colored Girls who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf Summary

Ntozake Shange

For Colored Girls who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf

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For Colored Girls who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf Summary

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For Colored Girls who Have Considered Suicide when the Rainbow is Enuf by Ntozake Shange is a “choreopoem,” a term coined by the author to describe a dramatic work that is a combination of poetry, dance, music, and song. The structure of the work is non-traditional: twenty poems that interconnect stories about seven African-American women who are only identified by colors they are given to wear—they include the lady in red, the lady in orange, the lady in yellow, the lady in green, the lady in blue, the lady in brown, and the lady in purple.

The titles of the choreopoem’s sections are intentionally lowercase, and several of them feature deliberate non-standard spelling of familiar words.

The piece’s prologue, “dark phrases,” introduces the women, who are all outside their home cities. The women sing and dance to nursery rhymes, representing the movement from childhood to adulthood.

In “graduation nite,” the lady in yellow takes part in a high school graduation ceremony. She loses her virginity to one of her male friends. The other ladies discuss their sexual preferences.

The lady in blue describes how dancing has helped her explore her cultural identity in “now i love somebody more than.” She uses salsa and blues to feel connected to the two sides of her cultural heritage.

The lady in red discusses her passion for a man in “no assistance.” Her passion is so strong, however, that she has lost herself; she decides to end the affair. She leaves the man a note on a plant.

In “i’m the poet who,” the lady in orange says that she does not want to use words in English or in Spanish. She just wants to dance. One of the main lines of this section is “we gotta dance to keep from cryin and dyin.”

The section “latent rapists” describes society’s understanding of a rapist as a stranger who attacks a woman. The ladies argue that rapists are more likely men known to their victims. They discuss men with nice smiles, who take them out and treat them well, only to rape them after dinner.

The lady in blue is alone on the stage for “abortion cycle #1.” She is connected to medical equipment, and she cannot bear to have people see her get her abortion.

The lady in purple and the lady in green join together in “sechita.” Sechita is the Egyptian goddess of creativity and love—but also filth—as well as the name of a young woman from the bayou. The lady in purple describes Sechita’s life, while the lady in white dances.

In “toussaint,” the lady in brown describes how she fell in love with Toussaint L’Ouverture by reading his works. She calls him her “secret lover at age 8.” She meets a boy named Toussaint Jones and decides he is her real life Toussaint. She leaves with him.

In “one,” the lady in red describes a gorgeous woman who attracts whomever she chooses, but when she goes home and removes her makeup and glamorous clothes, the men are stunned by how average she is.

The lady in blue takes the stage for “i usedta live in the world,” and she describes the bleakness and isolation of living near Harlem.

Three women fall in love with the same man in “pyramid.”

The next four sections are titled “no more love poems,” and numbered one through four. In each, one of the women discusses the nature of love, and what it means to love as an African-American woman.

All the women dance for “my love is too,” and they chant about all the ways their love is delicate, beautiful, sanctified, magic, saturday nite, complicated and music.

The lady in green takes the stage for “somebody almost walked off wid alla my stuff.” She describes how a former lover took pieces of her self when he left.

The ladies discuss all the times a man has apologized to them in “sorry.”

The lady in yellow learns she is HIV-positive in “positive.” The other ladies have seen her lover outside of gay bars. When the lady in yellow confronts him, he denies it and accuses her of cheating on him.

A Iraq War veteran with PTSD is the subject of “a nite with beau willie brown.” He wants to marry the mother of his young children, but she refuses, blaming his drug problem. He breaks into her apartment, trying to force her to love him. When she denies him, he drops their children out of a fifth story window.

In the final section, “a layin on of hands,” the women reveal they have all considered suicide, but through their perseverance, they have each moved on to their own rainbows.

The piece ends with all the women on stage at once, in a circle that represents their shared unity and the sense of sisterhood they all feel.

Shange’s piece discusses a number of difficult and complex topics, including domestic abuse, abandonment, and rape. Shange depicts the struggles and obstacles that stand in the way of African-American women, as well as the sisterhood that grows from these shared experiences. Though the piece’s focus on struggle could seem negative, ultimately, it turns into a celebration of the women and the power they find in their own voices.

This is a very personal piece for Shange, relying heavily on her personal experience. In a 2014 interview for CNN, Shange described the origin of the title this way: “I was driving the No. 1 Highway in northern California and I was overcome by the appearance of two parallel rainbows. I had a feeling of near death or near catastrophe. Then I drove through the rainbow and I went away. Then I put that together to form the title.”