Labeled a choreopoem, this work by Ntozake Shange is a group of poems choreographed or punctuated by song. Seven women present the piece: ladies in brown, red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple. Other than brown, the colorful garments refer to a rainbow's colors. The choreopoem gains edginess with the ladies claiming their homes to be outside of major urban centers, perhaps expressing feelings of being outsiders. The work expresses Shange's view of the experiences of urban Black females. Yet, it is universal, reflecting the life of many women. The Lady in Brown begins the work, speaking of having no childhood. Life in poverty has prevented black women from seeing their potential. A popular song of the 1960s celebrating joy experienced by urban dwellers interrupts words telling of a tuneless melody and stereotypic phraseology. The lady later tells of her finding information about Toussaint L'Ouverture, an important figure in Black history. Toussaint became her imaginary mentor. Amazingly, a boy named Toussaint Jones enters her life. She learns that a peer named Toussaint living in the neighborhood is as good as a Toussaint she has not met living in Haiti. The Lady in Yellow recalls graduation and hanging out with classmates. A song highlighting the poignancy of leaving youth and virginity punctuates her words. References to speaking Spanish label the Lady in Blue as a person of mixed heritage. She recalls her dreams of the world and then the reality of living in Harlem, within a world of six blocks. Clothed in red, one of the participants speaks of her failed affair. Her gifts have been ignored.
Symbolically, she gives him a plant upon which she lavished attention since she met him. The Lady in Red also speaks of a prostitute in Los Angeles possessing a desire to punish men. Music remains a strong element, as the figures in yellow and brown reveal that dancing keeps them from sadness and death. The choreopoem's heavy subject matter continues as the ladies discuss the topic of rape. Difficulty in charging a friend with assault is weighed against accusing a stranger. Bitterness, the result of betrayal by a friend is evident in the words. Consequently, the Lady in Blue tells of her abortion, apparently resulting from a rape. The Lady in Green reveals her life as an exotic dancer in a carnival. The Lady in Orange says that being sorry and colored are redundant. Examining the various poems, it is evident that Shange had a clear vision of the character of each of her ladies. The Lady in Brown has dreams of achieving success; the Lady in Red is bitter towards men. It seems that dysfunctional men appear throughout the choreopoem. Towards the end, the ladies lament that men claim they are sorry, yet continue to lie and cheat. The strength of a woman is seeing through their deceit. Despite problems, there is hope according to Shange. The entire piece ends with a feeling of female empowerment.