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The Color of Water

James McBride


Study Questions

Study Questions

Study Questions

Study Questions

Ruth says that all her father wanted was money and to be American. Did he achieve those goals?

Coming from Poland's desperate poverty, Tateh strove to capitalize on the opportunity to live comfortably in the United States. He married Mameh in an arranged marriage, and her higher class enabled him to come to America. Once in America, Tateh failed to support his family as a traveling rabbi, and the family decided to open up a store. The store did quite well. Tateh also became an American citizen, fulfilling his second wish. Ruth believes that while her father achieved his goals, in the process he hurt his family so much that the goals became meaningless. The store became a burden to his children, who had to run it while he was away. This burden was particularly weighty for Sam, who ran away from home at fifteen. Tateh overcharged his black customers simply because he could. In addition, Tateh treated his handicapped wife with cruelty.

When James punches the Black Panther's son, what were his thoughts? What do his thought reveal about the potentially divided feelings of biracial children?

James punched the Black Panther's son out of frustration. He was unable to warn his mother about what he viewed as a threat to her: a Black Panther standing next to her. James's racial makeup tore him in two directions. The black power movement of the 1960s made James and his friends proud to be black. But his mother was white, and the potential enemy of such revolutionary black thinkers. James often felt guilty, thinking of his mother, when he would agree with his friends that white people were evil. But he felt significant pressure to conform to the rhetoric of the time and to try to repress her fears about its consequences for his mother.

Why do you think Ruth placed such emphasis on hard work and education?

Ruth's background as a poor immigrant likely contributed to her excellent work ethic. In addition, however, the motivation may have been her drive to achieve self-reliance. Ruth believed in freedom, and education and hard work were paths toward that freedom. When Ruth first left Suffolk, she came to New York, working long hours in tedious, even dangerous jobs. Ruth also enjoyed education for its inherent worth. Never a lazy woman, Ruth loved to use her mind.

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