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The Color of Water

James McBride

Key Facts

Main ideas Key Facts

full title · The Color of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother

author ·  James McBride

type of work ·  Memoir

genre ·  Coming-of-age memoir, race relations

language ·  English

time and place written ·  United States, 1990s

date of first publication ·  1996

publisher ·  Riverhead Books

narrator ·  James McBride

point of view ·  The author alternates between his own first person voice and his mother's own words.

tone ·  Straightforward narrative tone

tense ·  For the most part, the book takes place in the past tense, as it recounts the past lives of James and Ruth. McBride uses the present tense when he talks about his current life, activities, and beliefs.

setting (time) ·  James McBride tells the story of Ruth's life, which begins in the 1920s. He places emphasis on the 1930s, 40s and 50s. James's memoirs covers the 1960s through the 1990s.

setting (place) ·  Suffolk, Virginia; New York City; Louisville, Kentucky; Oberlin, Ohio; Wilmington, Delaware

protagonist ·  Ruth and James

major conflict ·  James's struggle to come to terms with his racial identity and background

rising action ·  Ruth's separation from her parents. Ruth's marriage to Dennis. James's confrontation with race relations in society in the 1960s.

climax ·  A series of small climaxes in which Ruth and her son James confront issues of racial identity and difference

falling action ·  Ruth's conversion to Christianity; James's search for racial identity

themes ·  Past versus present; exclusion as a result of racial or religious difference; self-motivation and self-reliance; the burden of secrets

motifs ·  Mother and son: interwoven voices; alienation versus solidarity; journalistic tone versus the emotion of experience

symbols ·  Ruth's bicycle; Mameh's Love of Birds; Black Power

foreshadowing ·  Ruth's relationship with her boyfriend Peter foreshadowed her later kinship with black people, and her marriages to black men. James's early love of music and writing foreshadowed his later adoption of those two enthusiasms in a professional context.