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The Color of Water

James McBride

Chapters 19–21

Summary Chapters 19–21

Ruth's relatives, convinced of the finality of her separation from her family, discouraged Ruth from attempting to see her mother when she lay dying. Her family still considered her "dead", and even the death of a loved mother could not bring them back together. Ruth makes comments throughout the memoir about the way Christianity has allowed her to feel absolved of her guilt surrounding her Jewish family. She cites Christianity's forgiveness of sins as something that drew her to the faith in early adulthood.

Ruth vividly captures the image of her crippled mother playing with birds and singing to them "birdie, birdie, fly away." This snapshot is poignant, and also symbolic. Mameh's warning never to catch "a bird who flies" seems connected to Ruth's frequent wanderlust. Ruth is like a bird who flies and should not be caught. To Ruth, Mameh symbolized immobility and hopelessness. Mameh was physically immobile as a result of the polio that left her crippled, and emotionally immobile because of Tateh's poor treatment of her.