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Color of Water

In: Novels

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Words 531
Pages 3
Zachary Carson
English 10
15 March 2015

Color of water

The book Color of water by James McBride is about his mother Ruth McBride and her struggles with cultural and racial differences. Color of water is set in the early 1930’s through the late l960’s in both the southern town of Suffolk, Virginia and the city of Brooklyn, New York. Many important symbols appear throughout the story, including Ruth’s bike, flying birds, and clear water. These symbols were important in Ruth’s life. Ruth rides an old blue and white battery-powered bike to maintain a connection with her dead husband. Her second husband , Hunter Jordan, found this bike abandoned in Brooklyn and brought it home. “The contraption would be a collector’s item now, probably worth about five thousand dollars, but back then it was something my step father found on the street in Brooklyn and hauled home a few months before he died.” (page 5). Ruth would ride this bike up and down the street as a form of grieving the loss of her late husband. The loss of her husband was one of the difficulties that Ruth encountered during her life and it took her several years to move on. The symbol of how water has no color is made when Ruth and her son are in church. Ruth’s son asks her what color god was because their family is “mixed”. He asked this because Ruth is a white Jewish woman (now Catholic) who married a black man and had mixed-race children. “God is the color of water. Water doesn’t have a color.” (page 51). This symbol was significant because a large amount of the book had to do with the problems Ruth and her family had with race. Ruth used this statement to help her son understand that color is not important despite what society may think.
The last important symbol that I found in this book was Ruth’s mother’s love of birds. As a child Ruth remembered her mother singing a song in Yiddish called “Birdy Birdy Fly Away”. She would sing this song while feeding birds, then shoo them off. Ruth also remembered how her mother once reassured her that killing chickens was an acceptable thing to do because they are not birds that flew. This was shown when she said “A bird who flies is special. You would never trap a bird who flies.” (page 218). Ruth’s mother cherished how the birds could fly and be free because she was crippled with polio. The birds represented much of the independence and mobility that was stolen by polio.
There were many symbols in The Color of Water. These symbols were shown throughout Ruth’s life from her childhood, to when her kids were first growing up, and when she was older. These symbols and what they stand for are the ways Ruth and her family coped with their problems, such as how Ruth’s mother dealt with a crippling disease of polio, how she mourned her husbands death, and how she overcame the problem of racial and religious differences. The author’s use of these symbols helps readers understand what family really means to the McBrides.

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