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James McBride's book, The Color of Water

In James McBride's book, The Color of Water, the leaving of home by both Ruth (the author's mother) and James (the author) is an event full of mixed causes, motivations and effects. Both are leaving unpleasant home and family environments. Both are frightened and hopeful about finding a new and better life. Both ultimately find that their leaving home was, indeed, a positive step toward discovering themselves and living a life separate from the family environment they left behind.

Ruth's family was relying on her, to work in the store among other things, and she was unhappy and feeling trapped. The straw that broke the camel's back with respect to her leaving was her becoming pregnant, having an abortion, and then hearing that Peter, the black man who would have been the father of her baby, was marrying another woman. She confronted him and he told her his parents were making him marry the other woman because he had gotten her pregnant as well:

If the world were fair, I suppose I would have married him, but there was no way that could happen in Virginia. Not in 1937. I made up my mind then that I was going to leave Suffolk for good. I was seventeen, in my last year of high school, and for the first time in my life I was starting to have opinions of my own. There was no life for me there (154).

Ruth has simply become too big, in mind and spirit, to remain in the racist Virginia town, and her leaving seems inevitable. However, Ruth feels an obligation to her mother just as James will later feel an obligation to Ruth:

I was planning to leave for New York. But see, I had Mameh. I was her eyes and ears in America. She couldn't speak English and I translated for her and looked out for her, because Tateh didn't care for her at all. . . She was a good Jewish wife to him, but their marriage was starting to crumble because he didn't care about her. That's why I knew I was leaving home (154-155).

For Ruth, to stay would be...

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James McBride's book, The Color of Water. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 15:09, April 21, 2019, from