In the novel The Color of Water by James McBride, it is clear, that James and his mother Ruth, felt very strong about race and race relations, education and career choices, and religion. Most of the novel took place in the Jim Crow era, a time where African Americans were labeled as second-class citizens. James who lived in Red Hook, wanted to know more about his mother since he knew that she was different. He knew she was different due to the fact, that he was black, and his mother was Jewish. James McBride asked various questions and his mother gave sarcastic responses and told him that he asks too many questions. Soon enough, as James got older, he was able to listen about his mother’s story.
Due to the fact this novel was during the time of the Jim Crow era, blacks were violated of their rights, and weren’t getting the same treatment as the whites. Ruth, due to the simple fact that she was white, was affected by this era since she wanted to marry a black man. Ruth got an abortion when she was in a relationship with Peter, because they knew the town wouldn’t approve of it. Peter could’ve also ran the risk of being murdered if the relationship was known and made public. After Peter, she went to marry a man named Dennis. This became very insolent with her family, which later led to them completely cutting Ruth out of their lives as if she no longer existed. Later in their relationship, a group of white men attempted to kill them with bottles while they were out on the street. One black woman punched Ruth in the face since she didn’t approve of Ruth and Dennis’s relationship. Though Ruth is surrounded by a great deal of racism for most of her life, Ruth never changed who she was. She never became a part of the racism and saw no reason for why she shouldn’t marry and be friends with people across racial lines if she loves and cares for them. In chapter 23, Ruth stated, “a marriage needs love. And God. And a little money. The rest you can deal with. It’s not about black or white. It’s about God and don’t let anyone tell you different.” (McBride 233)
In the first chapter, James’s point of view, is that he sees his mother differently at an early age since she was white. This was known when James asked his mother, “Who are you? How come you don’t look like me?” Ruth then responded, “I do look like you. I’m your mother. You ask too many questions. Educate your mind. School is important.” (13) She then opened to James as he got older, so he can have a better understanding. She recalled all the strict practices of the Orthodox Judaism, in which she found very difficult to live, she even feared death. In chapter 4, James began to realize the difficulty of being a multi-racial individual. He was torn between the desire of having unity with the black neighbors that strive for black power, and the concern for his Jewish mother who doesn’t want to make the commitment for the black power movement.