Examine Ntozake Shange's style of writing in for colored girls.... What effect does it have on the piece?
Shange wrote for colored girls... in the vernacular. She meant her writing to invoke the way real women write and speak; she made these choices so that the choreopoem would feel authentic, relatable, and open. She uses common abbreviations and occasional derivations from traditional English, as well as slang, cliches, and hyperbole. The language is also quite lyrical, and she uses melodic sounds and intonation to blur the lines between poetry and song. Shange takes dramatic license with the structure of her paragraphs, sentences, and words. Her unique style does not allow the reader to become complacent - he or she must be present in the process. Shange makes each and every word vividly present in order to express the many layers of meaning. Overall, the language is idiosyncratic, luminous, and fully evocative of its speakers, whom can be either beautiful, broken, or both.
What is the overall message of for colored girls... and how does Shange convey it?
While Ntozake Shange's overall inspiration to write for colored girls... came from ruminations on the nature of female friendships, she confronts many issues that were (and are still) pertinent to women of color. The bond between the ladies shows that these friendships can provide solace and stability in challenging times. The ladies confront their feelings about race, celebrating their individual beauty but sometimes grappling with bouts of self-doubt. They share anecdotes about relationships with men. Many of the sexual relationships, while complicated, are ultimately negative - but the ladies learn from these struggles. Ultimately, all of these various threads converge under the larger theme of identity and self-actualization. The piece presents arcs where naivete transforms into knowledge, youth gives way to maturity, dependence becomes independence, and weakness gradually becomes empowerment. Shange ends her choreopoem with a message of hope, encouraging "colored girls who have considered suicide" to be fearless in their quest for independence and embrace their self worth.
What do the four poems in “no more love poems” express about love and relationships? Why is the title of these poems fitting (or why not)?
Each of these four poems details the ways in which the women sacrifice parts of themselves in relationships. One woman might hides her true emotions and feelings, another becomes dependent, some of them get involved with men who do not treat them well, or they make themselves vulnerable to men who do not reciprocate. However, each lady eventually realizes that as a result of these compromises, she is unhappy, unfulfilled, and quite far from being the person she wants to be. Finally, the ladies start building their own identities outside of the context of love and relationships. The title, "no more love poems," is therefore not as tragic as it may seem. It indicates that these women understand the meaning of real love and respect (as opposed to the fairy-tale love-poem version) and that they do not need love poems to feel an innate sense of self-worth.
How does Ntozake Shange deal with issues like abortion, rape, and HIV/AIDS? Do you think she is sensitive in her handling of these controversial issues - why or why not?
Ntozake Shange demonstrates tremendous compassion for the women who experience date-rape, the woman who has to get a secret abortion, and the woman who sleeps with an ex-lover and contracts HIV. She does not condemn, blame, or belittle them. She avoids a sense of puritanical reprimand because she gives these victims a voice. She lets them reveal their own stories, which is the underlying point of for colored girls.... Many members of society - men and women alike - can try to avoid confronting issues like date rape, abortion, or AIDS by embracing a particular political stance, but Ntozake Shange is not afraid to address these topics. She believes that discussing difficult subjects will allow the victims to have cathartic experiences, but also to let other women know that it is all right to speak out. In this way, she presents these issues as a point of discussion as opposed to telling her audience or readers how they should perceive them.
Some critics have derided Ntozake Shange, saying that for colored girls... unfairly demonizes black men. Do you think this criticism is valid - why or why not?
While there are a number of clashes between the male and female characters, Shange makes an effort to present these conflicts without overt judgement. Rather, she allows the characters on stage to discuss their stories as an actual group of women might. For example, the lady in yellow has a very positive first sexual experience with her male friend in "graduation nite," leading to a conversation about enjoying sex. In "toussaint," the lady in brown idolizes the Haitian male revolutionary and ends up meeting a powerful, no-nonsense Toussaint of her own. In the stories of women (like in "one") who willingly make themselves objects of the male gaze, Shange questions the system and the woman's self-worth as opposed to deriding the men who come to her. Finally, both Beau Willie Brown and DJ treat their partners terribly, but Shange makes the men as sympathetic as possible. Beau Willie Brown is clearly suffering from PTSD and DJ is a deeply closeted gay man who hates himself for his sexual orientation. In this way, Ntozake Shange criticizes the systems that make these men the way they are as opposed to the men themselves.
How does the figure of Toussaint L’Ouverture factor into the young girl’s coming of age in “Toussaint”?
The little girl in this poem grows up in the heated, contentious aftermath of the desegregation of schools. She experiences prejudice and discrimination and feels like her world is stifling and cruel. When she reads about Toussaint L'Ouverture, she finds her own hero to worship - a black man who stood up to his white oppressors and won. Reading about Toussaint's life leads the young girl to form a more coherent racial consciousness, while his masculinity and heroic appeal also provoke a sort of sexual awakening, albeit a very innocent one. Toussaint is the lady in brown's first love because he is so much more of a role model than anyone she sees around her... until she meets Toussaint Jones. By realizing that there are men like Toussaint L'Ouverture in the world, the lady in brown is suddenly able to articulate what she wants in a partner.
What does Shange believe is the significance of poetry?
For Ntozake Shange, poetry is a means of expression, catharsis, and self-awareness. It allows the poet to transcend his or her daily existence and experience a sense of belonging to something important and meaningful. Poetry, like music and dance, connects the poet with her inner goddess and gives her a language to understand herself and her place in the world. Even when poetry deals with commonplace issues, it can elevate and inspire because it gives the poet a voice. The women in the play use poetry to articulate their thoughts and fears and share their experiences. They find power in the commonality of their struggles.
What can readers learn about Ntozake Shange through for colored girls...? How do you think her personal experiences shaped the choreopoem?
Although for colored girls... is not explicitly autobiographical, Shange does weave in many of her own experiences as a young woman coming to terms with her race and gender in the early 1970s. She, like her characters, had to learn how to embrace her flaws and idiosyncrasies, which paved the way for her maturation as a woman and as an artist. Her feelings of alienation while living New York are also manifest, as she both celebrates the modernity of the city but also juxtaposes it with the maddening cruelty and isolation of Harlem. Her faith in love remains paramount, despite all of the setbacks her female characters face. She presents herself as a spiritual and hopeful woman who recognizes the importance of community, self-expression, and learning from past mistakes. It is likely that the process of writing for colored girls... was very cathartic for Ntozake Shange - as the experience of reading and watching it can be life-changing for her audiences.
for colored girls... is internationally revered by women of all skin colors. Why do you think this is? How does Shange make her work universal?
Ntozake Shange titled her choreopoem for colored girls... because a lot of it is based on her experiences as a woman of color. However, the specificity of the various stories mean that any woman can find something here to relate to. Shange avoids sounding preachy or exclusive by letting each lady speak for herself - allowing the audience/reader to interpret her story instead of forcing a particular lesson. Shange's audience, therefore, becomes caught up in the humanity of these individual stories and discovers that the commonality of the human experience goes much deeper than skin color. Shange evokes the pain of heartbreak, the desire to be loved, the value of a friend to lean on, a sense of alienation in the modern world, and the struggle for maturation - which are all universal truths.
What do “somebody almost walked off wid alla my stuff” and “sorry” have in common?
There are several instances in for colored girls... where the women decry the various ways in which men have taken advantage of them or mistreated them. The male characters generally walk away, while the women are left to bear the wounds. However, in "somebody..." and "sorry," each of the respective speakers proclaims that she is no longer willing to sacrifice so much for men who do not deserve it. More so, these women want to hold the men accountable for their actions. Both of these women have found empowerment by overcoming their own struggles in romantic relationships. In "somebody..." the lady celebrates her flaws, calling for an ex-lover to return the pieces of her that he has taken away. She embraces ownership of her body and of her memories, and will not let them be compromised. In "sorry," the women join together to speak out against men making excuses for bad behavior. Their self-worth is not reliant on men's apologies - they would rather face the unfortunate truth than suffer under flimsy lies. These poems point to a shift in the play where the women start becoming more assertive, confident, and self-aware.