The Color of Water Summary & Study Guide

James McBride (writer)
This Study Guide consists of approximately 32 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of The Color of Water.
This section contains 509 words
(approx. 2 pages at 400 words per page)
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The Color of Water Summary & Study Guide Description

The Color of Water Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Topics for Discussion and a Free Quiz on The Color of Water by James McBride (writer).

The eighth of twelve children, James McBride grows up in a chaotic but loving home. Unlike his friends, James doesn't look like his mother. His mother is a Polish Jew who was raised mostly in Virginia. She marries a black man and spends the majority of her adult life in New York City where people are a little more tolerant of her inter-racial marriage and children.

James's father dies of lung cancer before he is born, but his mother remarries another kind-hearted black man who chooses not to live with them during the week for the sake of his sanity. Most of the time, therefore, it's just Ruth and her many children, trying to make ends meet.

The book is written from two points of view: that of James and that of Ruth. Ruth's words are written in italics, framed as answers to interview questions posed by her son James.

Ruth (called Rachel by her parents) immigrates to America when she is just two years old. Her father is a Jewish rabbi who never manages to keep a post very long because his congregations simply don't like him. To his family, though, he is downright abusive. Ruth's mother is crippled from polio, but can still do her household chores as well as any able-bodied person.

During Ruth's early years, the family relocates frequently, as every year, his rabbinical contracts are not renewed. They finally land in a small town in Virginia, and Rabbi Shilsky sets up a store, selling mostly to the black people in the town. Because she is Jewish, Ruth feels like an outcast in the town during her teen years.

Ruth moves to Harlem and meets Andrew McBride, who is everything her father is not: genuinely religious, kind and faithful. They live together until they get the courage to apply for a marriage license. They start a church in their tiny living room in the housing projects.

The couple quickly has children, and when Ruth is pregnant with her eighth child, Andrew grows very ill and passes away. Ruth is overwhelmed with grief and loss until she marries Hunter Jordan, who restores calm and relative order once more.

Education is extremely important to Ruth, and though she is very poor, she manages to send all twelve of her children to college. Some of them become medical doctors, some professors, others teachers. The going is rough, though, as the children have to fend for themselves much of the time and endure insensitive comments about their mother's race.

After he graduates from college and gets a job as a reporter, James becomes interested in his mother's side of the family. She has never spoken of them and has evaded questions about her background, so he decides to investigate for himself. He goes to Virginia and talks to old-timers about the Shilskys and what has become of them. In learning about them he discovers more about himself, a side that he has not been aware of—the Jewish side of him, a black man.

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This section contains 509 words
(approx. 2 pages at 400 words per page)
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