Essay on “The Color of Water” by James McBride

For two years, “The Color of Water” by James McBride was the #1 New York bestseller. What have caused the popularity of this book and how has it achieved public recognition? It is a revelation that describes endeavors of the son about his mother’s mysterious past. It is a life story that portrays the hardships of living and chances, one may find, choosing his own way. Ruth McBride had decided to go the way of thorns; yet, at the end she reaped the roses and found her own American Dream.

Help with Essay on “The Color of Water” by James McBride
Help with Essay on “The Color of Water” by James McBride

James McBride was living in chaos during his teen years; but, grace to some pieces of advice from ‘cool’ men and his mother’s admonitions, he started searching the inner ‘self’. “He came to realize that the key to his search lay behind the story of the most interesting person he’d ever known in his life – and the person he loved the most – his own mother” (James McBride: Author, para.1). For 14 years he was gathering the core fragments of his family origins and this quest was crowned by “The Color of Water” and public’s deep appreciation.

Mostly, the story is dedicated to Ruth McBride and her establishment in a new society. Her family, numbering three members, had emigrated from Poland to the USA. Father had emigrated first to settle all questions; afterwards, mother, Ruth and her older brother Sam had arrived on August 23, 1923. The marriage of Tateh and Mameh (Yiddish for father and mother) should be called the marriage of convenience, because it was a ticket to America for Fishel Shilsky, Ruth’s father. The whole Mameh’s family had already moved to the USA and could afford financial support. Fishel was a traveling Orthodox Jewish rabbi, who had failed to carry out this yoke and, finally, settled in Suffolk, Virginia. He set up a store on the first floor, while occupied the second one with the rest of his family. Since Mameh was crippled because of polio she had had in childhood, the biggest part of charges’ burden was laid on Sam’s shoulders, who was treated like a slave.

Rachel Dwajra Zylsky, the second child in this broken family had suffered sexual abuses from her father in her adolescence. She had nothing to remember of this period, except pain, suffering, disgrace and abhorrence. Because of her father’s attitude towards her crippled mother and herself, she was raised in an atmosphere of low self-esteem. She desperately longed for love and sympathy. Fishel’s tyranny had gone so far that he has forbidden the whole family to visit relatives, who lived in New York. Over these terrible circumstances, Sam ran away at the age of 15 and has never come back: at first, he worked at a grocery store in another city, but, during the World War II he was killed. Thus, Ruth was rejected in her own household and had to find love in some other places.

Ruth’s father detested blacks, who overcrowded Suffolk, and tried to show it with every gesture or attitude. The biggest part of his riches was gathered in a deceitful manner from black men. However, she has not shared the manner, Fishel had treated black men and, little by little, she fell in love with this nation. In revenge to her father, Ruth dated with a black boy, named Peter, and, finally, has found someone who loved and respected her. “[She] was naïve and young and before you know it [she] fell in love with him” (McBride, p.163).

Accidentally, in a burst of love and happiness, she turned out to be in a family way. Peter refused to marry her and an idea of a black child in a family, where racism and hate dominated over common sense, seemed unbelievable; thus, Mameh, who had realized the situation, had sent her to her relatives. In New York she was done an abortion and, after coming back, she found out that Peter deceived her. But compassion and sympathy had resulted in her future marriage.

Andrew Dennis McBride was the first man in Ruth’s life, who showed her the right way. She had felt guilt because of leaving her ill mother and younger sister Gladys in father’s hands; but, she could stay in that house no longer. Andrew has taught her to forgive and love; he was a real Christian and Ruth married him straightaway. When she married a black man, the whole family has slammed the doors in front of her. Though, her notion was: “See, a marriage needs love. And God. And a little money. That’s all. The rest you can deal with. It’s not about black or white” (249).

Nevertheless, Ruth McBride was fearless and has passed these hardships with hope and forgiveness, as her husband had taught her. At this turning point, Jewish girl had died and this moment signified a new beginning. As a girl, she was forbidden to attend the Protestant church; besides, this barrier was laid hundreds of years ago and was rooted in her mentality. Since the rebirth, Ruth overstepped this line and has experienced the regeneration of her soul.

Though, her husband had died when she was pregnant with their ninth child, James, somewhere deep inside her soul, there was the Light, the God’s Word that was strengthening her during this insufferable period. However, she proved that “part of me died when Dennis died. I loved that man more than life itself” (271). But, David left unfading heritage as a preacher and founder of New Brown Memorial Baptist Church and, for their children, God was neither black nor white: “God is the color of water. Water doesn’t have a color” (216).

After the death of her second husband, Hunter Jordan, the ‘fire’ left their house, because he was the real ‘king’ of the family. Enduring the grief, Ruth has found strength to raise 12 black children up, stressing: “You’re human being[s]…Educate yoursel[ves] or you’ll be nobody…If you’re nobody… it doesn’t matter what color you are” (247). She has forgiven everyone, who had ever hurt her, covered them with love; but, Ruth put up with her past and was no longer a Jewish girl.

Maybe, Ruth McBride had chosen the hardest way; yet, she has walked this road with a raised head and all her children were not put in shame. She was sowing love, community and sympathy in her kids, and these merits produced the fruit, which was not based on racial differences or religion. Ruth was no longer a Jew; but, she became a real Christian, because, God had made her a new creature in Jesus Christ.

Works Cited:
1. McBride, James. “The Color of Water”. Penguin Croup (USA), 1996.
2. “James McBride: Author – The Color of Water”. James McBride. 17 Nov., 2006.

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