List of Important Characters
James McBride, the author, and narrator in the novel pays tribute to his Jewish-Polish mother, who was instrumental in honing him towards Christian upbringing and the importance of unity in the family. He is a writer, a Jazz musician, a journalist, and a composer. He relayed his challenges and confusion in his identity during his early years and his triumphant determination to succeed later in his life is foretold.
Ruth McBride, is the Jewish-Polish mother of twelve children, including James. Her story unfolds and James recognized her strength in character, faith in God, love for her children, as the factors that enabled her to triumph over adversities. Her philosophy of giving the best education for her children and a commitment to hard work became instrumental in inspiring her children to succeed.
Andrew Dennis McBride, the father of the author, who was a violinist from North Carolina. He fathered 8 of Ruth’s children and had a pronounced strength and gentleness in his character. He died of lung cancer even before James was born.
Brief Summary of the Book
The story is actually an autobiography of James McBride and a tribute to his mother, Ruth. The story evolved from the time Ruth’s family migrated to America when she was only two years of age. The author documented his mother’s struggles in childhood at the hands of her abusive father, Tateh; as she patiently watched her gentle mother, Mameh, being cheated on and lorded over; and as she endured the hardships of working in an oppressive environment within a black section of Suffolk, Virginia.
Being married twice, Ruth’s life had been exemplary given the challenges and adversities she surpassed. She became a co-founder of a Baptist church and was able to raise and send all her children to good schools to be educated. The emphasis on religion, education, work and family paved the way for the family’s ability to achieve great things. The author aimed to proffer the relevance of racism in the discourse and readers are accorded with the realization that the secret to success lies in the determination to rise above the rest.
The color of the water was used as the title to commemorate his mother’s reply when asked whether God was black or white. It simply manifests that color is not a critical factor in ensuring God’s omnipotent blessings to those who strive to be better.
The book is a moving and inspirational story of James’ mother as she looks beyond the issues of racism in her struggles and goal to give her children a reason to achieve. The aim of the author is to proffer a deeper insight into determining whether racial issues should preclude and prevent people from reaching for their goals in life. As manifested by the life of her mother, James revealed that the courage and determination of her mother to look beyond the color of the skin making it more viable for them, as a family, to focus on more relevant factors, other than racial issues.
Despite being subjected to emotional and sexual abuse from her own father, Ruth was determined to make a good life for her children. What could be perceived by others as an impossible task of raising twelve children was disputed as actually within one’s capability with diligence and persistent efforts to focus on work, family, education, and religion. The unwavering faith of Ruth and her unselfish pursuit to make her children’s lives better enabled them, as a family, to look beyond the adversities, per se.
The novel is a clear manifestation that the realization of one’s dreams is always reachable with due diligence, determination, patience, continuous education, and great faith in God. It is an inspiring form of literary work that provides readers with lessons in life. Those who face challenges that seem to be foreboding could use Ruth’s strategies to overcome trials. Her focus was relentlessly directed towards an optimistic future. If she, as a woman with a difficult past, could surpass the struggles she and her family faced, then others, who could be confused and lost in life, could be inspired to realize that success and achievement is possible with love, faith, and hard work.