For Colored Girls who have considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf
Ntozake Shange’s masterly poem is the most illuminating and poignant story I have ever read about black women in America.
The writer puts forth her work from two angles. One of them elaborates about rape and other atrocities against black women in sad detail, depicting the physical and emotional abuse and trauma that black women suffer at the hands of insensitive black men. The other angle highlights the strong will and ability of black women, their grit and determination, all of which enables them to survive even after being repeatedly struck down.
Rape is undoubtedly the most heinous crime against women. There is an underlying feel of emotion of wronged black women all through the poem. Pain, strain and stress coupled with despair, despondency and rejection by family and society, all form a lethal combination that causes such desperation that suicide seems the only way out. The work literally echoes with the outcries of black women, yearning for understanding, craving for acceptance, and begging not to be judged for something they did not do, something they did not assist in, yet something that has been tagged around their necks, dragging them to embrace a doom they do not deserve - suicide. Ntozake Shange, who herself attempted suicide several times after separating from her husband in 19661, is thus well placed to describe the churning feelings of desperation that makes the women in her poem contemplate suicide.
And then the writer touches on the brave resilience of black women. She admires them for refusing to despair in spite of the great adversities facing them as well as their
1 – www.scils.rutges.edu/~cybers/shange2.html
families and other loved ones. The poem then goes on to briefly dwell on interludes of romance, sex, music and dancing. All these activities are designed to show the resistance put up by black women as they not only strive for their integrity, but also fight to rekindle the lost feeling of self-respect.
Ntozake Shange’s work however, does exhibit a few drawbacks. It presents a fragmented view of black life. It shows signs of weakness in terms of depth of content and character development. Toussaint L’Ouverture is the only black male in the poem shown in a positive light. Most other black men are looked upon as sub-human creatures with serious personality defects. They are represented as beasts who will lie, seduce, beat, rape and abandon women. As for black women, they are looked upon as deficient in mental development. They do not understand, and cannot understand, the socio-psychological reasons behind the behavior of their assaulters. Black women are generally considered as overwrought and overacting, never seeming to question why they allow themselves to be abused. “There is some lack of variety in the selection of material; and excess of concern within romance and sex, music and dancing, even considering that the work is about young women.” (Sanders, Kevin. WABC-TV7 Critic – www.bridgesweb.com/blacktheatre/shange.html).
In spite of these minor drawbacks, the poem is a wonderful piece of work. Ntozake Shange’s writing is regularly beautiful and often exquisite. “Ms Shange has a good ear for language and a sharp eye for the behavior and customs of black people; there is intelligence at work in Colored Girls, but more important, there is texture, the feel and raw emotions of the modern black woman who, against odds, fights for her integrity and self-respect.” (Gottfried, Martin. New York Post Critic – www.bridgesweb.com/blacktheature/shange/html). The characters in her poem especially identify with women, like Ntozake Shange herself, who have experienced more pain than joy at the hands of their men. Ms Shange says that the women are not alone in their suffering – and this was the greatest message she has striven to show, and has very successfully done so, in her commanding piece of work.