There are many interesting characters in The Color of Water by James McBride. One of the most dynamic is the protagonists James, who is the narrator of the story, and Ruth, who tells her son of her past after many years. James changes and grows throughout this story. In the Beginning he is just a normal middle child of twelve, but as the story progresses and he learns more about his and his mother’s past he starts to discover who he is as a black man with a white mother. When James was younger he always noticed that his mother was different then the mothers of his friends. He hated his mother for not looking like him and his siblings in the beginning. But soon after learning about the past he starts seeing his mother in a new light. Not a white lady with twelve nappy haired black children, but as a woman who went through many hardships such as molestation by her father and a very restricted childhood. Ruth on the other hand does not change as much as James does; her one main change is that she allows herself to open up to her son after many years of lies and half-truths.
There are many different settings in this story. It begins Poland as Ruth, explains her pat and her journey to America. The story takes place in Suffolk, Virginia; New York City; Louisville, Kentucky; Oberlin, Ohio; Wilmington, Delaware. When the protagonist decides to learn about his mother’s past he travels to each place he has learned something new about his mother and her past. After learning each bit of information from each town James finds himself feeling closer to his mother than ever before.
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I would describe the protagonist, James, as a very curious person. Even from early childhood he questioned everything. He questioned his mother about her past, her future, and even about God. He mostly questioned her about why she was white and he wasn’t. she blew of the questions saying things like she was just light skinned and God made her that way so don’t question it. The Tittle actually comes from a question he asked his mother. “What color is God’s spirit?” to which his mother replied “the color of water.” I would say that the protagonist, Ruth, is a very loving lady. She never let her past affect her family. I think that’s why she lied to James about being white, by brushing it off as being light skinned. I also think she was a loving person because her whole life all she worked for was to open a church to save the lives and souls of many people, which she finally did before she died.
In this novel I don’t think there was an antagonist. I would say that the antagonist was not a person but racism in the world. Throughout the novel both protagonists struggled with it. Ruth struggled with it her entire life. When she was only two she was forced to leave her home of Poland for America after Hitler came into power. When she came here she faced more racism by dating a black man who she soon married, she faced even more racism for having twelve black children. James also faced racism in his everyday life, growing up in time of the KKK and black panthers.
The theme of The Color of Water is that no matter how rough your life is everything will be alright if you have love in your life. It took James the entire book to realize this. Ruth found this out at a very young age, after she meets Dennis, James’ father. Her whole life was a challenge and she fought through because he knew there was light at the end of the tunnel. James found this out after he found out his mother’s entire life from start to finish. He seen his life was perfect with his mother and his siblings around to share all the glory. The last line of the book is “this is not only for my mother, but also for my siblings.”
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