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The Color of Water

James McBride


Chapters 16–18

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Chapters 16–18

Chapters 16–18

Chapters 16–18

Chapters 16–18


Chapter 16—Driving

James comments upon Ruth's emotional fragility after the death of her second husband. James recounts the amusing adventure that ensued when his mother decided she should learn to drive Hunter's old car. She drove crazily, and, after a few close calls, declared that she would never drive again. Gradually, James began to give serious consideration to the warnings of Chicken Man and his sister Jack, who said bad things would happen if he failed to change his behavior. James looked to God for comfort and guidance.

Chapter 17—Lost in Harlem

When Ruth arrived in New York, she lived with her grandmother, Bubeh, and worked at her Aunt Mary's leather factory, where she met James's father, Dennis. Eventually Ruth could no longer tolerate her aunt's bad treatment of her, and quit her job at the factory. She sought jobs in several different places, ending up at a nail salon. The manager, Rocky, took Ruth under his wing, renting a room to her and taking her out on the town. Although Ruth did not realize it, Rocky was being kind to her because he wanted her to become a prostitute. When Ruth told Dennis about Rocky, he informed her of Dennis's intentions. Ruth cut off contact with Rocky and moved back in with Bubeh.

Chapter 18—Lost in Delaware

Living in New York was becoming too expensive for James's family, and there was considerable debate as to whether they should move to Delaware or remain in New York. Eventually, the family moved to Delaware. There, James became increasingly involved with jazz. He took a trip to Europe with the jazz band, sponsored by a white couple named the Dawsons. James also worked as Mrs. Dawson's gardener and as a server at several of her gatherings. As James got older, he became more certain that he wanted to become a musician. He applied to Oberlin College in Ohio. Although he had a strong background in music and writing, he was concerned about his poor grades and SAT scores. To his surprise and to his mother's delight, Oberlin accepted James. Ruth continually bragged about his acceptance to her friends and neighbors. When James left home for college, Ruth showed characteristic encouragement and support, repressing her emotional response to his departure until the bus had pulled away.


When James mourned his father, his grief manifested as anger. Crime and drug use were the vehicles of his frustration. However, as he grew older and his stepfather's death became a more distant pain, he realized it was his duty to care for the rest of his family. This attitude inspired James to act more responsibly. He grew more self-disciplined, honing his writing and musical skills. During this time of late adolescence, he made the acquaintance of the Dawsons, whose support he appreciates. They are the first white rich people James really gets to know.

Ruth's encounters with Rocky and his involvement with prostitution point to a certain innocence about her. Although Ruth experienced difficulties in the South, her move to New York introduced problems and dangers specific to urban life. Throughout this time period, Dennis, the man Ruth would later marry, remained remarkably stable and positive. In her descriptions of her first husband, Ruth frequently mentions his essential goodness and strength of soul.

Ruth's efforts to determine whether Delaware or New York would make a better home exemplify her general indecisiveness. James also writes that Ruth felt a need for constant movement, because movement helped her transcend confusing or painful elements of her life. Using movement as a coping mechanism dates back to Ruth's adolescence, when she took several trips to see relatives as a means of sorting out problems with her home life.

Test Your Understanding with the Chapters 16–18 Quiz

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Test Your Understanding with the Chapters 16–18 Quiz



After Hunter’s death, Ruth makes an amusingly ill-fated decision to try to learn to ___.
Install plumbing
Play poker
Test Your Understanding with the Chapters 16–18 Quiz

Chapters 16–18 QUIZ

Test Your Understanding with the Chapters 16–18 Quiz

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by mitu1983, October 02, 2012

how was the writers grandparents married and why?


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