Tyler Perrys Movie Colored Girls English Literature Essay

4525 words (18 pages) Essay

1st Jan 1970 English Literature Reference this

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Thesis: Ntozake Shange uses her choreopoem to illustrate the struggles of working class black women within the context of the African Diaspora in the United States. The feminism of this poem exposes the raw agonies, frustrations and hopes of the working class black women.

Introduction: Tyler Perry’s movie, “Colored Girls” is based on the award winning choreopoem by Ntozake Shange.

Ntozake Shange wrote this experimental work of art which she called a chorepoem.

Movie mogul Tyler Perry reopen s controversy by making a film version of this work.

The book continues to challenge traditional beliefs about race, class, and gender

Shange exposes the raw feelings of African American women in their own voice.

Shange breaks all the rules of grammar, spelling, and diction in her work.

Shange uses non-standard English to render the characters voices authentically.

Shange’s work is too rich and complex to be explained in a short analytical paper.

The paper, therefore, focuses on three cycles of poems contained in the work.

The themes discussed are agony, frustration, and hope as portrayed by her characters.

Lady in Brown

First Poem (p. 3). This inaugural poem introduces the theme of a stolen girlhood. A central theme in all of the poems is the theft of innocence by the brutality of a racist patriarchal society.

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Second Poem (pp.25-30). The lady in Brown recounts a childhood in segregated America. Her passion for equality leads her to embrace a historical figure, who leads her into the arms of her first love.

Lady in Yellow

First Poem (pp. 7-10). The lady in yellow loses her virginity to one of three cousins who”escorted” her after graduation festivities. She loses her virginity in the back seat of a Buick. The loss of Virginity becomes symbolic for the self which is damaged or destroyed.

Second Poem (p.45). The lady in yellow experiences the results of her mindless sexuality. Her love is thrown back in her face.

Lady in Orange

First Poem (pp.14-15). The lady in orange deals with the power of the female body to be itself. The body’s need to express itself with songs, with feeling, and movement.

Second Poem (p.16). In her second poem, she again exalts the power of dance. This is a Diasporic peculiarity.

Third Poem (42-43). In this third poem, the Lady in orange provides the appraisal of the outside world of the black (colored) woman. She is demeaned into a irrelevance.

Conclusion: The poems are anguished renderings of the black experience, as seen through the eyes of black women who share their raw unvarnished lives. The hope is found in the theology of the goddess. The goddess who resides within the core of each woman. When she is embraced, she heals the self and affirms the rainbow. Each sister is part of the rainbow and provides the “enuf”. The sisterhood is greater than the anguish of dead babies, the scars of abortion, the disappointment of relationship, and the brutality of rape. Sisterhood is the church of the Goddess. The sisterhood is seen in the dialogue between the women in its nuance and its honesty. Each woman in her own distinctive way forms a rainbow, the ultimate symbol of hope. The rainbow symbol is as old as the bible. Shange creates a rainbow quilt with each woman forming a thread in the quilt. A colorful quilt of red, green, purple, blue, orange, yellow, and brown threads.

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Tyler Perry’s movie, “Colored Girls” is based on the award winning choreopoem by Ntozake Shange. (Shange, Colored Girls) This movie has led to a reexamination of Shange’s original work entitled, For Colored Girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow. Shange created a stir among poets, critics, scholars and activists alike. For African Americans of the current generation, Ntozake Shange’s poetry is part of the literary tradition of their parents. Why would there be such strong feelings surrounding a movie based upon a chorepoem which was published and performed in 1975? Why is it still of interest to the students of today? The controversy surrounding Perry’s movie throws a spotlight on the original work. This paper seeks to understand why Shange has such a powerful influence on writers of her generation, as well as writers of today. It is intriguing that Shange’s first work is still influencing writers like Toni Morison and Sapphire. Shange is seen as a trail blazer, a writer who breaks all of the taboos and presents herself and her art in a purely raw fashion. Her work is ground breaking, because it is written by and for black women. (Clark 94-120) It never excludes black men, but it forces them to see the world through different eyes. This little book, which was picked on by Joseph Papp as a prelude to Broadway production, continues to have ripple effects as it impacts the world of ideas. (Shange, For Colore Girls who have Considere Suicide when the Rainbow is Enuf ix-xvi) Her poetry is still fresh and her insight is still keen. Shange manages to live up to the tribute paid her by Sapphire, ” If there are shoulders modern African American women’s literature stands upon they belong to Ntozake Shange, who revolutionized theatre and literature with her iconic work . . . Any of us writing today are inheritors of her genius.” This is high praise from one creative person to another. (Shange, Colored Girls)

Shange’s masterpiece is too complex to explore with great detail in a work the length of this paper. However, a brief examination of three sets of poems from this book will explain why this author’s opus remains relevant to today’s audience. To begin a discussion of the work, one has to begin with the inability to place the work into a genre. The work is theatrical, but is not a play. There are unnamed characters who are identified by the color of the dress that they wear on stage. The work is lyrical; each character speaks in a cycle of poems, which loosely suggest dialogue. The production is intended to have music and dance as integrated components of the work. (Clark 3)

The author creates a distinct genre for her work, which she calls a choreopoem. In creating this genre she fuses the musical elements of the choir, found in the black church. This choir has the literary elements of dramatic poetry as well as a hint of the classical Greek chorus. In this way her choreopoem is authentically African American in form. The poems are reminiscent of the great poetic tradition of Walt Whitman and Emily Dickenson, as well as African American contemporaries such as Amiri Baraka or Sonja Sanchez. Shange, an Ivy League graduate, never seems to tire of classical parallels to African American life. The choir/chorus is a great illustration of how Shange fuses the classical element with the African American element. (Clark 95-96) No African American church is complete without a choir; no attic drama is complete without a chorus. The use of masks is another feature of attic drama that Shange, with her nameless ladies, has again incorporated a classical element into this very African American work. Her masks hides identity and reveals the characters of the play. In colored girls, the ladies wear colored dresses to express character, which obscures the identity of the woman behind the dress. Rather than using a mask to exhibit mood and character, Shange is able to convey mood and character by means of color and fabric, which is a very African American habit. In a more traditional way, Lorraine Hansberry expresses character and mood by the clothes worn by the female characters in A Raisin in the Sun. Three generations of African American women are distinguished by the way they dress. As Mama says in a different context in the play, the dress she wears “expresses me”.

Capitalization, spelling, grammar, and usage are all nonstandard. She spells enough as enuf in the title of her work and she finds opportunities to experiment with the technical elements of writing throughout her choreopoem. Shange’s reformatting of the English language allows her to escape from the narrow confines of Euro centrism. She aspires to create a truly Africanized rhetoric. Her rhetoric also escapes the confines of the male dominated language. She has sentences which are as chopped up as the lives of the ladies. She has shown the same disregard for structure that one might expect to find in a suicide note. The choreopoem is beautiful and lyrical; however, it is a grammarian’s nightmare. (Shange, For Colore Girls who have Considere Suicide when the Rainbow is Enuf) It is known that the author attempted suicide several times while at Barnard College, she seems to have made attempts until she herself discovered that the rainbow is enuf. (Appiah 1699)If this work is an extended suicide note, it is one which was intended to be found. Once found, the colored girl who wrote it can receive proper treatment and move on with her life. The colored girl who wrote this choreopoem made the transition to black womanhood and continues to write poetry. Shange appears to use the choreopoem as a means of self disclosure; she does this in much the same way that Maya Angelou uses the autobiographical format to self disclose. Whereas, Angelou writes long detailed prose, Shange uses condensed poetry to express herself.

Not only is Shange’s work controversial in format, the work is controversial in content. Her critiques of the Black Nationalism of the 1960s and 1970s as destructively patriarchal in substance and structure. Organizations like the Black Panther Party were notorious for their male hierarchies, which promoted a gun toting, testosterone fueled ethos that ignored the sustaining contributions of the ever suffering “sisters”. (Wikipedia) Shange refused to accept the degrading inequality endured by women like Elaine Brown, Erica Huggins, Angela Davis and Betty van Patter. Refusing to accept the brutality and marginalization of black women as a “sacrifice” for the “struggle” Shange projects the agonized pain of black woman on to the consciousness of her audience. While critiquing the chauvinism of the black man in relationship to the black woman, Shange issues an equally biting critique of white feminism. She takes feminism from the classroom and respectable salons of Middle America to the brutal streets of Urban America. Here the working class black woman forges her identity as part of a vast and colorful sisterhood. Research reveals that the original version of the choreopoem, which was published by an independent publisher, was called the Shameless Hussy Press. (Clark 94,100)

In a recent introduction to the updated version of the choreopoem, Shange explains how her book was a more inclusive document. (Shange, Colored Girls) The title of Shange’s choreopoem is in fact her thesis, “For Colored Girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf”. The title of the book demands recognition. The work was not written for African American women, or black women or Negro women, but for colored girls. In the title, she exposes the dehumanization of the black woman. Black women are often demeaned by such names as girl or gal, no matter the age or station in life. (Shange, Colored Girls) For if the black man is forever “boy”, as Dr. King said in his letter from the Birmingham Jail, then the black woman is forever “girl” in the eyesight the white world. The use of the terms “girl” or “lady” are ironic reminders of how that world sees them as well as well as the “mystique” which was denied them. The crushing alienation of her life brings the colored girl to the point of suicide. The stress and strain of being mother, daughter, sister, wife, lover, whore, saint, activist worker, homemaker, teacher, goddess, etc. forces the colored girl to consider suicide. When this beleaguered heroine looks around, she discovers that the rainbow is enuf. That colorful rainbow of colored girls is enuf, the sisterhood is enuf. The rainbow is enuf. The choreopoem identifies the character as ladies. This is again more controversy! Why are the characters identified as ladies of various colors? Perhaps these nameless characters reflect the way black women are seen by the world as simple nameless individuals. Or the nameless woman who bares your children or the nameless lady whose children are hanging out of the five story brownstone. These nameless ladies are dignified with the ubiquitous honorific, “lady”.

The first set of poems examined is those spoken by the lady in brown. The lady in brown is the first character to speak. This makes her the unofficial spokesperson for the sisterhood of the rainbow. She introduces the audience to the trauma of the “colored girl’s” existence. The lady in brown is not familiar with the feminine mystique of white feminism. Her feminism is not based upon books read or the trendiness of feminist writers such as Gloria Stienem, Betty Friedan or Simone de Beauvoir. This is not a feminism of Martinis and Daiquiris, but a feminism of “dancing on beer cans and shingles”. (Shange, For Colore Girls who have Considere Suicide when the Rainbow is Enuf 3)the lady in brown’s initial poetic monologue deals with life as a dance under impossible circumstances. The lady in brown utters the blues, reiterated by the other ladies throughout the choreopoem. Her blues reflects the loss of innocence, which reflects as spokesperson for the group. The lady in brown introduces the central theme of loss of innocence, stolen in as many ways as there are women in the rainbow. She also identifies the thief as a racist, patriarchal society. She lives in a society that will not respect her, nor honor the innocence that all girls are entitled to. (Shange, For Colore Girls who have Considere Suicide when the Rainbow is Enuf 3)

The lady in brown’s discovery of Toussaint Louverture is emblematic of the longing that the colored girl has for a powerful mythic protector. She needs a protector who will protect her innocence and empower her personhood. Toussaint, with all of his mythic power, could not protect one colored girl from being disqualified for reading about him. Her reading about him at once took her further than the Jim Crow world of St. Louis would allow. At the same moment her reading about him introduced her to the reality of that destructive racial reality. The reality of colored girl is a reality which possesses so many other ways of stealing her innocence. The mythic gives way to the real, as the lady in brown is introduced to Toussaint Jones. Jones gives her what Toussaint L’Oveture could not. (Shange, For Colore Girls who have Considere Suicide when the Rainbow is Enuf 25-30) However, in doing so he took every vestige of innocence. As is stated later in the book, “he took her stuff”.

One cannot ignore that this section of the choreopoem is a muted homage to 1955. This was the year that the Supreme Court ended segregation in schools, Emmet Till was butchered in Mississippi, Rosa Parks was expelled from a bus in Birmingham, and Paulette Williams integrated an elementary school in St. Louis, Missouri. No wander the lady in brown concludes that, “1955 was not a good year for lil blk girls.” (Shange, For Colore Girls who have Considere Suicide when the Rainbow is Enuf)

The loss of virginity is a key element in the choreopoem. Loss of virginity is the doorway to adulthood. Its loss appears an important factor in the shaping of the feminine identity. Shange uses the lady in yellow to express the significance of this loss. It is juxtaposed with the American ritual of attending a graduation party. The party described in the choreopoem begins as a raucous celebration and descends into a squalid meditation upon the discovery of adulthood. For the colored girl, simple life events are dangerous and can betray innocence. Childhood friends can also be a source of betrayal. The deepest mystery and greatest surprise of all is that one’s own body can betray you. The body betrays the colored girl by yielding to feelings not felt before. In the confusion of the moment, our lady in yellow does not know which of the three suitors actually “takes her stuff” for the first time. The readers is left to wonder if more than one of these cousins has his way with her or if all of them have her. On page forty-five the lady in yellow is ruminating about the many men who have come her way. She seems to have one lover in mind who has danced with her, but has not danced her dance. A lover who sings with her, but never sings her song. (Clark 109)Her eagerness to love is devalued and rejected. This creates the metaphysical dilemma. The lady in yellow is left with metaphysics. Metaphysics is the study of being and the world that one lives. It is ironic that this entire work deals with a womanist attempt at metaphysics. Metaphysics attempts to understand the world that rejects colored girls and leads the colored girl to consider suicide. It is a metaphysic similar to what Virginia Wolf contemplated. There is irony in the fact that the colored girl has little in common with Ms. Wolf or the men who dominate metaphysics. These white people fashioned a metaphysics which demeaned women and ignored the very existence of colored girls. The lady in yellow confesses, “I haven’t conquered yet”. (Shange, For Colore Girls who have Considere Suicide when the Rainbow is Enuf) The dilemma is simple, does she continue on the path of momentary pleasure and allow my love to be treated with scorn or does she take the road which leads to self affirmation? She concludes that, “my love is too delicate to have thrown back on my face.”

The lady in orange is certainly Shange’s homage to Walt Whitman. One can almost hear the lady in orange, “sing the body electric” (Shange, For Colore Girls who have Considere Suicide when the Rainbow is Enuf 42)as she abandons words for melodies and dance. Her body is not limited to black music or dance, but it yearns for a diasporic experience. Just as the pre-Broadway version of the choreopoem included all women of color, regardless of origin. The lady in orange appeals to the diaspora in her dance and song. Certainly the colored girl phenomenon is not simply an African American problem, but a diasporic problem. The colored girl is a problem which all members of the African Diaspora must deal with. Shange’s rainbow is wide enough to encompass all colors of the rainbow. (Clark 100) This rainbow accepts Spanish, English, French or Dutch speakers, it does not discriminate. It accepts Swahlli, Kwazulu or Bantu it sees no distinction. The rainbow takes up cries out of the tired and huddled masses of the African Diaspora. The women who have been used and abused by the system or the men who will not or cannot accept the love of a colored girl. (Shange, For Colore Girls who have Considere Suicide when the Rainbow is Enuf)

The lady in orange comes to the realization that she is no more than a Cassandra, a prophetess without an audience. No one will listen to her beautiful music or dance her captivating dance or sing her alluring song. The lady in orange tries to deny the inescapable reality of being a colored girl. She was born prepackaged as this, “. .…evil woman, a bitch, or a nag.” Her realization is no less metaphysical than the lady in yellow. The imagery is stark, describing her relationship with her perennial lover as, “being in the bottom of yr shoe.” She realizes that her plight is redundant. The plight of the colored girl is redundant. Redundancy with its never ending pain and sorrow is the existence of the colored girl. It is not surprising that she considers suicide. She is Sisyphus, eternally doomed to a life of pushing her love up the steep hill of demeaning non-acceptance, only to have that love roll back down in her face. She could not endure the demeaning irrelevance of such an existence. In the myth, Sisyphus is smarter than anyone else, even the gods. (Wikipedia) However, in the end his cleverness dooms him to eternal frustration. The lady in yellow is smart, she has much to offer, but she always finds herself in a frustrating relationship where the other person receives the benefits and she is no more than gum under his feet. She scrapes herself off only to find herself under foot again. Unlike Sisyphus, the Lady in orange can break free. She can scrape herself off and go on to a freedom which Sisyphus can never know. He can never break, free no matter what he does. The lady in orange can escape, for she has the rainbow which is her route of escape. Sisyphus is a reminder that being alone is a losing strategy. (Shange, For Colore Girls who have Considere Suicide when the Rainbow is Enuf 42-43)With all of his brilliance, Sisyphus never works with others. He attempts to solve his problems alone. Moreover, the colored girl is a loner, who feels powerful enough to resolve her problems by herself. However, the power for escape and affirmation lies in unity with others who have similar pains, hardships, and problems. In unity she finds strength and power to overcome. Colored girls are alone and adrift, black women are powerful and free. The ladies can surmount whatever hill they must climb. Without unity the colored girl is doomed to frustration and agony as she climbs the hills and mountains of life alone. (Shange, For Colore Girls who have Considere Suicide when the Rainbow is Enuf 16)

There is hope for the colored girl, there is the rainbow. The rainbow is a symbol rich with biblical imagery; it is the grand hope of the colored girl. If she finds the rainbow, she will find that it is enuf. In the Bible, the rainbow was given to Noah as a sign of covenant. For the colored girl, the rainbow is a covenant from the goddess within, a promise that she is not alone. A reassurance that there are other colored girls, girls who have been beaten, abused, and neglected. They form a powerful and indissoluble rainbow.

Noah had a patriarchal God who lived somewhere in the clouds. The colored girl finds her goddess within her very being. The goddess within is a metaphysical witness to the destruction of the patriarchy. When she is embraced, she heals the self and affirms the rainbow. Each sister is part of the rainbow and provides the “enuf”. The sisterhood of the rainbow is greater than the anguish of dead babies, the scars of abortion, the disappointment of relationships, and the brutality of rape. The sisterhood of the rainbow is broader than church and deeper than pain.

Metaphysics is not only a philosophical term which is intellectual in nature, it deals with the religious or spiritual or hidden nature of things (occult). The poetry cycles that have been selected for this paper do not deal with the spiritual aspect of colored girls. Yet, it is clear that traditional spirituality offers very little to the colored girls. There is a strong undertow of African and Caribbean spirituality in the work. The whole idea of embracing an inner goddess cannot be separated from the goddess worship which came to these shores from Africa and have been suppressed by a patriarchal God. This yearning for another type of spirituality or metaphysic is a recurring thread in white feminism. The embrace of the inner goddess is a metaphysical approach to faith which is unorthodox and self affirming. The colored girl has been denied personhood by the oppressive white patriarchy in concert with a weaker and debased black patriarchy. (Shange, For Colore Girls who have Considere Suicide when the Rainbow is Enuf 106-110)

Men are not characters in this choreopoem, however, their existence and influence cannot be denied. They cannot be denied, because they seem to be the source of pain and pleasure. Men are the inescapable “other” which the colored girls need to survive. Men seem to be an addictive drug administered early and often. No matter how bad the man treats her, she comes back for more. If he beats her, she stays with him anyway. If he rapes other women she refuses to believe that her charming beau could be a rapist until he rapes her. Men are the drug of choice for colored girls. Drugs and alcohol only cover the pain of the primary intoxicant. The colored girl is a junkie and it is only by the grace of God that she overcomes her deadly addition. The more pain he gives, the more she desires him. It is only when she gives up on her addition that she becomes a black woman and ceases to be a colored girl. (Shange, For Colore Girls who have Considere Suicide when the Rainbow is Enuf 45)

The sisterhood is seen in the dialogue, which exists between the ladies as a subtle connection which unites all of the poems. The poems are only a metaphor for the women themselves. If there is an interconnection among the poems, then there is a possible dialogue between each woman in the choreopoem. Each woman makes her own distinctive contribution to the rainbow, this ultimate symbol of hope. The colored girl can never appreciate the rainbow until she considers suicide. Suicide clarifies the dilemma that the colored girl must face. She must give up her addiction to that painful “other” or face self destruction. Not all colored girls make this life affirming decision; many are swallowed up in the allure of suicide. For those who see the choice as life or death, the only acceptable choice is life. Affirmation of life for the colored girl means affirmation of the goddess within. (Shange, For Colore Girls who have Considere Suicide when the Rainbow is Enuf 56)

Shange creates her own rainbow quilt; each woman is a patch in the quilt. A patch helps to create or complete the whole. Together they are a strong beautiful quilt, which provides value and warmth on a cold night. This colorful quilt of red, green, purple, blue, orange, yellow, and brown threads is also a powerful warning of what God told Noah, “It won’t be water, but fire next time.” Perhaps the fire will be the uncontrolled rage of the black woman who has found her voice through the power of poetry or other forms of the spoken word. The world that is to be destroyed is perhaps a metaphor for a patriarchy. A patriarchy that will not bend or adjust and must be uprooted and burned. The colored girl has only to lose her chains.

Thesis: Ntozake Shange uses her choreopoem to illustrate the struggles of working class black women within the context of the African Diaspora in the United States. The feminism of this poem exposes the raw agonies, frustrations and hopes of the working class black women.

Introduction: Tyler Perry’s movie, “Colored Girls” is based on the award winning choreopoem by Ntozake Shange.

Ntozake Shange wrote this experimental work of art which she called a chorepoem.

Movie mogul Tyler Perry reopen s controversy by making a film version of this work.

The book continues to challenge traditional beliefs about race, class, and gender

Shange exposes the raw feelings of African American women in their own voice.

Shange breaks all the rules of grammar, spelling, and diction in her work.

Shange uses non-standard English to render the characters voices authentically.

Shange’s work is too rich and complex to be explained in a short analytical paper.

The paper, therefore, focuses on three cycles of poems contained in the work.

The themes discussed are agony, frustration, and hope as portrayed by her characters.

Lady in Brown

First Poem (p. 3). This inaugural poem introduces the theme of a stolen girlhood. A central theme in all of the poems is the theft of innocence by the brutality of a racist patriarchal society.

Second Poem (pp.25-30). The lady in Brown recounts a childhood in segregated America. Her passion for equality leads her to embrace a historical figure, who leads her into the arms of her first love.

Lady in Yellow

First Poem (pp. 7-10). The lady in yellow loses her virginity to one of three cousins who”escorted” her after graduation festivities. She loses her virginity in the back seat of a Buick. The loss of Virginity becomes symbolic for the self which is damaged or destroyed.

Second Poem (p.45). The lady in yellow experiences the results of her mindless sexuality. Her love is thrown back in her face.

Lady in Orange

First Poem (pp.14-15). The lady in orange deals with the power of the female body to be itself. The body’s need to express itself with songs, with feeling, and movement.

Second Poem (p.16). In her second poem, she again exalts the power of dance. This is a Diasporic peculiarity.

Third Poem (42-43). In this third poem, the Lady in orange provides the appraisal of the outside world of the black (colored) woman. She is demeaned into a irrelevance.

Conclusion: The poems are anguished renderings of the black experience, as seen through the eyes of black women who share their raw unvarnished lives. The hope is found in the theology of the goddess. The goddess who resides within the core of each woman. When she is embraced, she heals the self and affirms the rainbow. Each sister is part of the rainbow and provides the “enuf”. The sisterhood is greater than the anguish of dead babies, the scars of abortion, the disappointment of relationship, and the brutality of rape. Sisterhood is the church of the Goddess. The sisterhood is seen in the dialogue between the women in its nuance and its honesty. Each woman in her own distinctive way forms a rainbow, the ultimate symbol of hope. The rainbow symbol is as old as the bible. Shange creates a rainbow quilt with each woman forming a thread in the quilt. A colorful quilt of red, green, purple, blue, orange, yellow, and brown threads.

Tyler Perry’s movie, “Colored Girls” is based on the award winning choreopoem by Ntozake Shange. (Shange, Colored Girls) This movie has led to a reexamination of Shange’s original work entitled, For Colored Girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow. Shange created a stir among poets, critics, scholars and activists alike. For African Americans of the current generation, Ntozake Shange’s poetry is part of the literary tradition of their parents. Why would there be such strong feelings surrounding a movie based upon a chorepoem which was published and performed in 1975? Why is it still of interest to the students of today? The controversy surrounding Perry’s movie throws a spotlight on the original work. This paper seeks to understand why Shange has such a powerful influence on writers of her generation, as well as writers of today. It is intriguing that Shange’s first work is still influencing writers like Toni Morison and Sapphire. Shange is seen as a trail blazer, a writer who breaks all of the taboos and presents herself and her art in a purely raw fashion. Her work is ground breaking, because it is written by and for black women. (Clark 94-120) It never excludes black men, but it forces them to see the world through different eyes. This little book, which was picked on by Joseph Papp as a prelude to Broadway production, continues to have ripple effects as it impacts the world of ideas. (Shange, For Colore Girls who have Considere Suicide when the Rainbow is Enuf ix-xvi) Her poetry is still fresh and her insight is still keen. Shange manages to live up to the tribute paid her by Sapphire, ” If there are shoulders modern African American women’s literature stands upon they belong to Ntozake Shange, who revolutionized theatre and literature with her iconic work . . . Any of us writing today are inheritors of her genius.” This is high praise from one creative person to another. (Shange, Colored Girls)

Shange’s masterpiece is too complex to explore with great detail in a work the length of this paper. However, a brief examination of three sets of poems from this book will explain why this author’s opus remains relevant to today’s audience. To begin a discussion of the work, one has to begin with the inability to place the work into a genre. The work is theatrical, but is not a play. There are unnamed characters who are identified by the color of the dress that they wear on stage. The work is lyrical; each character speaks in a cycle of poems, which loosely suggest dialogue. The production is intended to have music and dance as integrated components of the work. (Clark 3)

The author creates a distinct genre for her work, which she calls a choreopoem. In creating this genre she fuses the musical elements of the choir, found in the black church. This choir has the literary elements of dramatic poetry as well as a hint of the classical Greek chorus. In this way her choreopoem is authentically African American in form. The poems are reminiscent of the great poetic tradition of Walt Whitman and Emily Dickenson, as well as African American contemporaries such as Amiri Baraka or Sonja Sanchez. Shange, an Ivy League graduate, never seems to tire of classical parallels to African American life. The choir/chorus is a great illustration of how Shange fuses the classical element with the African American element. (Clark 95-96) No African American church is complete without a choir; no attic drama is complete without a chorus. The use of masks is another feature of attic drama that Shange, with her nameless ladies, has again incorporated a classical element into this very African American work. Her masks hides identity and reveals the characters of the play. In colored girls, the ladies wear colored dresses to express character, which obscures the identity of the woman behind the dress. Rather than using a mask to exhibit mood and character, Shange is able to convey mood and character by means of color and fabric, which is a very African American habit. In a more traditional way, Lorraine Hansberry expresses character and mood by the clothes worn by the female characters in A Raisin in the Sun. Three generations of African American women are distinguished by the way they dress. As Mama says in a different context in the play, the dress she wears “expresses me”.

Capitalization, spelling, grammar, and usage are all nonstandard. She spells enough as enuf in the title of her work and she finds opportunities to experiment with the technical elements of writing throughout her choreopoem. Shange’s reformatting of the English language allows her to escape from the narrow confines of Euro centrism. She aspires to create a truly Africanized rhetoric. Her rhetoric also escapes the confines of the male dominated language. She has sentences which are as chopped up as the lives of the ladies. She has shown the same disregard for structure that one might expect to find in a suicide note. The choreopoem is beautiful and lyrical; however, it is a grammarian’s nightmare. (Shange, For Colore Girls who have Considere Suicide when the Rainbow is Enuf) It is known that the author attempted suicide several times while at Barnard College, she seems to have made attempts until she herself discovered that the rainbow is enuf. (Appiah 1699)If this work is an extended suicide note, it is one which was intended to be found. Once found, the colored girl who wrote it can receive proper treatment and move on with her life. The colored girl who wrote this choreopoem made the transition to black womanhood and continues to write poetry. Shange appears to use the choreopoem as a means of self disclosure; she does this in much the same way that Maya Angelou uses the autobiographical format to self disclose. Whereas, Angelou writes long detailed prose, Shange uses condensed poetry to express herself.

Not only is Shange’s work controversial in format, the work is controversial in content. Her critiques of the Black Nationalism of the 1960s and 1970s as destructively patriarchal in substance and structure. Organizations like the Black Panther Party were notorious for their male hierarchies, which promoted a gun toting, testosterone fueled ethos that ignored the sustaining contributions of the ever suffering “sisters”. (Wikipedia) Shange refused to accept the degrading inequality endured by women like Elaine Brown, Erica Huggins, Angela Davis and Betty van Patter. Refusing to accept the brutality and marginalization of black women as a “sacrifice” for the “struggle” Shange projects the agonized pain of black woman on to the consciousness of her audience. While critiquing the chauvinism of the black man in relationship to the black woman, Shange issues an equally biting critique of white feminism. She takes feminism from the classroom and respectable salons of Middle America to the brutal streets of Urban America. Here the working class black woman forges her identity as part of a vast and colorful sisterhood. Research reveals that the original version of the choreopoem, which was published by an independent publisher, was called the Shameless Hussy Press. (Clark 94,100)

In a recent introduction to the updated version of the choreopoem, Shange explains how her book was a more inclusive document. (Shange, Colored Girls) The title of Shange’s choreopoem is in fact her thesis, “For Colored Girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf”. The title of the book demands recognition. The work was not written for African American women, or black women or Negro women, but for colored girls. In the title, she exposes the dehumanization of the black woman. Black women are often demeaned by such names as girl or gal, no matter the age or station in life. (Shange, Colored Girls) For if the black man is forever “boy”, as Dr. King said in his letter from the Birmingham Jail, then the black woman is forever “girl” in the eyesight the white world. The use of the terms “girl” or “lady” are ironic reminders of how that world sees them as well as well as the “mystique” which was denied them. The crushing alienation of her life brings the colored girl to the point of suicide. The stress and strain of being mother, daughter, sister, wife, lover, whore, saint, activist worker, homemaker, teacher, goddess, etc. forces the colored girl to consider suicide. When this beleaguered heroine looks around, she discovers that the rainbow is enuf. That colorful rainbow of colored girls is enuf, the sisterhood is enuf. The rainbow is enuf. The choreopoem identifies the character as ladies. This is again more controversy! Why are the characters identified as ladies of various colors? Perhaps these nameless characters reflect the way black women are seen by the world as simple nameless individuals. Or the nameless woman who bares your children or the nameless lady whose children are hanging out of the five story brownstone. These nameless ladies are dignified with the ubiquitous honorific, “lady”.

The first set of poems examined is those spoken by the lady in brown. The lady in brown is the first character to speak. This makes her the unofficial spokesperson for the sisterhood of the rainbow. She introduces the audience to the trauma of the “colored girl’s” existence. The lady in brown is not familiar with the feminine mystique of white feminism. Her feminism is not based upon books read or the trendiness of feminist writers such as Gloria Stienem, Betty Friedan or Simone de Beauvoir. This is not a feminism of Martinis and Daiquiris, but a feminism of “dancing on beer cans and shingles”. (Shange, For Colore Girls who have Considere Suicide when the Rainbow is Enuf 3)the lady in brown’s initial poetic monologue deals with life as a dance under impossible circumstances. The lady in brown utters the blues, reiterated by the other ladies throughout the choreopoem. Her blues reflects the loss of innocence, which reflects as spokesperson for the group. The lady in brown introduces the central theme of loss of innocence, stolen in as many ways as there are women in the rainbow. She also identifies the thief as a racist, patriarchal society. She lives in a society that will not respect her, nor honor the innocence that all girls are entitled to. (Shange, For Colore Girls who have Considere Suicide when the Rainbow is Enuf 3)

The lady in brown’s discovery of Toussaint Louverture is emblematic of the longing that the colored girl has for a powerful mythic protector. She needs a protector who will protect her innocence and empower her personhood. Toussaint, with all of his mythic power, could not protect one colored girl from being disqualified for reading about him. Her reading about him at once took her further than the Jim Crow world of St. Louis would allow. At the same moment her reading about him introduced her to the reality of that destructive racial reality. The reality of colored girl is a reality which possesses so many other ways of stealing her innocence. The mythic gives way to the real, as the lady in brown is introduced to Toussaint Jones. Jones gives her what Toussaint L’Oveture could not. (Shange, For Colore Girls who have Considere Suicide when the Rainbow is Enuf 25-30) However, in doing so he took every vestige of innocence. As is stated later in the book, “he took her stuff”.

One cannot ignore that this section of the choreopoem is a muted homage to 1955. This was the year that the Supreme Court ended segregation in schools, Emmet Till was butchered in Mississippi, Rosa Parks was expelled from a bus in Birmingham, and Paulette Williams integrated an elementary school in St. Louis, Missouri. No wander the lady in brown concludes that, “1955 was not a good year for lil blk girls.” (Shange, For Colore Girls who have Considere Suicide when the Rainbow is Enuf)

The loss of virginity is a key element in the choreopoem. Loss of virginity is the doorway to adulthood. Its loss appears an important factor in the shaping of the feminine identity. Shange uses the lady in yellow to express the significance of this loss. It is juxtaposed with the American ritual of attending a graduation party. The party described in the choreopoem begins as a raucous celebration and descends into a squalid meditation upon the discovery of adulthood. For the colored girl, simple life events are dangerous and can betray innocence. Childhood friends can also be a source of betrayal. The deepest mystery and greatest surprise of all is that one’s own body can betray you. The body betrays the colored girl by yielding to feelings not felt before. In the confusion of the moment, our lady in yellow does not know which of the three suitors actually “takes her stuff” for the first time. The readers is left to wonder if more than one of these cousins has his way with her or if all of them have her. On page forty-five the lady in yellow is ruminating about the many men who have come her way. She seems to have one lover in mind who has danced with her, but has not danced her dance. A lover who sings with her, but never sings her song. (Clark 109)Her eagerness to love is devalued and rejected. This creates the metaphysical dilemma. The lady in yellow is left with metaphysics. Metaphysics is the study of being and the world that one lives. It is ironic that this entire work deals with a womanist attempt at metaphysics. Metaphysics attempts to understand the world that rejects colored girls and leads the colored girl to consider suicide. It is a metaphysic similar to what Virginia Wolf contemplated. There is irony in the fact that the colored girl has little in common with Ms. Wolf or the men who dominate metaphysics. These white people fashioned a metaphysics which demeaned women and ignored the very existence of colored girls. The lady in yellow confesses, “I haven’t conquered yet”. (Shange, For Colore Girls who have Considere Suicide when the Rainbow is Enuf) The dilemma is simple, does she continue on the path of momentary pleasure and allow my love to be treated with scorn or does she take the road which leads to self affirmation? She concludes that, “my love is too delicate to have thrown back on my face.”

The lady in orange is certainly Shange’s homage to Walt Whitman. One can almost hear the lady in orange, “sing the body electric” (Shange, For Colore Girls who have Considere Suicide when the Rainbow is Enuf 42)as she abandons words for melodies and dance. Her body is not limited to black music or dance, but it yearns for a diasporic experience. Just as the pre-Broadway version of the choreopoem included all women of color, regardless of origin. The lady in orange appeals to the diaspora in her dance and song. Certainly the colored girl phenomenon is not simply an African American problem, but a diasporic problem. The colored girl is a problem which all members of the African Diaspora must deal with. Shange’s rainbow is wide enough to encompass all colors of the rainbow. (Clark 100) This rainbow accepts Spanish, English, French or Dutch speakers, it does not discriminate. It accepts Swahlli, Kwazulu or Bantu it sees no distinction. The rainbow takes up cries out of the tired and huddled masses of the African Diaspora. The women who have been used and abused by the system or the men who will not or cannot accept the love of a colored girl. (Shange, For Colore Girls who have Considere Suicide when the Rainbow is Enuf)

The lady in orange comes to the realization that she is no more than a Cassandra, a prophetess without an audience. No one will listen to her beautiful music or dance her captivating dance or sing her alluring song. The lady in orange tries to deny the inescapable reality of being a colored girl. She was born prepackaged as this, “. .…evil woman, a bitch, or a nag.” Her realization is no less metaphysical than the lady in yellow. The imagery is stark, describing her relationship with her perennial lover as, “being in the bottom of yr shoe.” She realizes that her plight is redundant. The plight of the colored girl is redundant. Redundancy with its never ending pain and sorrow is the existence of the colored girl. It is not surprising that she considers suicide. She is Sisyphus, eternally doomed to a life of pushing her love up the steep hill of demeaning non-acceptance, only to have that love roll back down in her face. She could not endure the demeaning irrelevance of such an existence. In the myth, Sisyphus is smarter than anyone else, even the gods. (Wikipedia) However, in the end his cleverness dooms him to eternal frustration. The lady in yellow is smart, she has much to offer, but she always finds herself in a frustrating relationship where the other person receives the benefits and she is no more than gum under his feet. She scrapes herself off only to find herself under foot again. Unlike Sisyphus, the Lady in orange can break free. She can scrape herself off and go on to a freedom which Sisyphus can never know. He can never break, free no matter what he does. The lady in orange can escape, for she has the rainbow which is her route of escape. Sisyphus is a reminder that being alone is a losing strategy. (Shange, For Colore Girls who have Considere Suicide when the Rainbow is Enuf 42-43)With all of his brilliance, Sisyphus never works with others. He attempts to solve his problems alone. Moreover, the colored girl is a loner, who feels powerful enough to resolve her problems by herself. However, the power for escape and affirmation lies in unity with others who have similar pains, hardships, and problems. In unity she finds strength and power to overcome. Colored girls are alone and adrift, black women are powerful and free. The ladies can surmount whatever hill they must climb. Without unity the colored girl is doomed to frustration and agony as she climbs the hills and mountains of life alone. (Shange, For Colore Girls who have Considere Suicide when the Rainbow is Enuf 16)

There is hope for the colored girl, there is the rainbow. The rainbow is a symbol rich with biblical imagery; it is the grand hope of the colored girl. If she finds the rainbow, she will find that it is enuf. In the Bible, the rainbow was given to Noah as a sign of covenant. For the colored girl, the rainbow is a covenant from the goddess within, a promise that she is not alone. A reassurance that there are other colored girls, girls who have been beaten, abused, and neglected. They form a powerful and indissoluble rainbow.

Noah had a patriarchal God who lived somewhere in the clouds. The colored girl finds her goddess within her very being. The goddess within is a metaphysical witness to the destruction of the patriarchy. When she is embraced, she heals the self and affirms the rainbow. Each sister is part of the rainbow and provides the “enuf”. The sisterhood of the rainbow is greater than the anguish of dead babies, the scars of abortion, the disappointment of relationships, and the brutality of rape. The sisterhood of the rainbow is broader than church and deeper than pain.

Metaphysics is not only a philosophical term which is intellectual in nature, it deals with the religious or spiritual or hidden nature of things (occult). The poetry cycles that have been selected for this paper do not deal with the spiritual aspect of colored girls. Yet, it is clear that traditional spirituality offers very little to the colored girls. There is a strong undertow of African and Caribbean spirituality in the work. The whole idea of embracing an inner goddess cannot be separated from the goddess worship which came to these shores from Africa and have been suppressed by a patriarchal God. This yearning for another type of spirituality or metaphysic is a recurring thread in white feminism. The embrace of the inner goddess is a metaphysical approach to faith which is unorthodox and self affirming. The colored girl has been denied personhood by the oppressive white patriarchy in concert with a weaker and debased black patriarchy. (Shange, For Colore Girls who have Considere Suicide when the Rainbow is Enuf 106-110)

Men are not characters in this choreopoem, however, their existence and influence cannot be denied. They cannot be denied, because they seem to be the source of pain and pleasure. Men are the inescapable “other” which the colored girls need to survive. Men seem to be an addictive drug administered early and often. No matter how bad the man treats her, she comes back for more. If he beats her, she stays with him anyway. If he rapes other women she refuses to believe that her charming beau could be a rapist until he rapes her. Men are the drug of choice for colored girls. Drugs and alcohol only cover the pain of the primary intoxicant. The colored girl is a junkie and it is only by the grace of God that she overcomes her deadly addition. The more pain he gives, the more she desires him. It is only when she gives up on her addition that she becomes a black woman and ceases to be a colored girl. (Shange, For Colore Girls who have Considere Suicide when the Rainbow is Enuf 45)

The sisterhood is seen in the dialogue, which exists between the ladies as a subtle connection which unites all of the poems. The poems are only a metaphor for the women themselves. If there is an interconnection among the poems, then there is a possible dialogue between each woman in the choreopoem. Each woman makes her own distinctive contribution to the rainbow, this ultimate symbol of hope. The colored girl can never appreciate the rainbow until she considers suicide. Suicide clarifies the dilemma that the colored girl must face. She must give up her addiction to that painful “other” or face self destruction. Not all colored girls make this life affirming decision; many are swallowed up in the allure of suicide. For those who see the choice as life or death, the only acceptable choice is life. Affirmation of life for the colored girl means affirmation of the goddess within. (Shange, For Colore Girls who have Considere Suicide when the Rainbow is Enuf 56)

Shange creates her own rainbow quilt; each woman is a patch in the quilt. A patch helps to create or complete the whole. Together they are a strong beautiful quilt, which provides value and warmth on a cold night. This colorful quilt of red, green, purple, blue, orange, yellow, and brown threads is also a powerful warning of what God told Noah, “It won’t be water, but fire next time.” Perhaps the fire will be the uncontrolled rage of the black woman who has found her voice through the power of poetry or other forms of the spoken word. The world that is to be destroyed is perhaps a metaphor for a patriarchy. A patriarchy that will not bend or adjust and must be uprooted and burned. The colored girl has only to lose her chains.

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