In The Color of Water James struggles with his sense of identity through childhood because he grew up in an environment void of identity; his mother runs from her own identity, so James cannot find his own.
By alternating points of view between James and his mother each chapter, James McBride shows that discovering the identity of his mother was just as important as discovering his own identity; without finding his mother he could not have found himself. Ruth, James’s mother, and James had very different childhoods full of many different struggles and conflicts. Having them laid out in alternating chapters gives the feel that they are side-by-side, allowing the reader to compare and contrast the upbringing of the two. It is through this process that the idea of looking up towards your parents is shown for both people. In the very first chapter Ruth speaks very briefly, but almost exclusively about her parents: “My father’s name was Fishel Shilsky... under fire when he ran off from the army, and his ability to slick himself out of anything that wasn’t good for him stayed with him for as long as I knew him.” (McBride 2). This in-depth information continued as Ruth spoke dearly about her two parents: who they were, what they were like, and their past. While Ruth seems close, or at least knowledgeable of both parents, as James begins his chapter he speaks closely and endearingly only about his stepfather: “He was a quiet, soft-spoken man…took no guff and gave none.” (McBride 6) Yet he shows resentment for his mother: “she was still slender and pretty… with a bowlegged walk you could see a mile off.” (McBride 7). The juxtaposition between the two people’s rants forces a comparison. Both Ruth and James show that a large part of their lives is who their parents were. This is shown by the majority of each character’s first words being a description of their parents rather than themselves. But in comparing the two you find that the...
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