Reading guide for The Color of Water by James McBride

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Color of Water

by James McBride

The Color of Water by James McBride X
The Color of Water by James McBride
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Feb 1996, 228 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 1997, 228 pages

  • Rate this book


Buy This Book

About this Book

Reading Guide Questions Print Excerpt

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

Introduction

James McBride grew up one of twelve siblings in the all-black housing projects of Red Hook, Brooklyn, the son of a black minister and a woman who would not admit she was white. The object of McBride's constant embarrassment, and his continuous fear for her safety, his mother was an inspiring figure, who through sheer force of will saw her dozen children through college, and many through graduate school. McBride was an adult before he discovered the truth about his mother: the daughter of a failed itinerant Orthodox rabbi in rural Virginia, she had run away to Harlem, married a black man, and founded an all-black Baptist church in her living room in Red Hook. In this remarkable memoir, she tells in her own words the story of her past. Around her narrative, James McBride has written a powerful portrait of growing up, a meditation on race and identity, and a poignant, beautifully crafted hymn from a son to his mother.



Discussion Questions
  1. Discuss Ruth McBride's refusal to reveal her past and how that influenced her children's sense of themselves and their place in the world. How has your knowledgeor lack thereofabout your family background shaped your own self-image?
  2. The McBride children's struggle with their identities led each to his or her own "revolution." Is it also possible that that same struggle led them to define themselves through professional achievement?
  3. Several of the McBride children became involved in the civil rights movement. Do you think that this was a result of the times in which they lived, their need to belong to a group that lent them a solid identity, or a combination of these factors?
  4. "Our house was a combination three-ring circus and zoo, complete with ongoing action, daring feats, music, and animals." Does Helen leave to escape her chaotic homelife or to escape the mother whose very appearance confuses her about who she is?
  5. "It was in her sense of education, more than any other, that Mommy conveyed her Jewishness to us." Do you agree with this statement? Is it possible that Ruth McBride Jordan's unshakable devotion to her faith, even though she converted to Christianity from Judaism, stems from her Orthodox Jewish upbringing?
  6. "Mommy's contradictions crashed and slammed against one another like bumper cars at Coney Island. White folks, she felt, were implicitly evil toward blacks, yet she forced us to go to white schools to get the best education. Blacks could be trusted more, but anything involving blacks was probably substandard... She was against welfare and never applied for it despite our need, but championed those who availed themselves of it." Do you think these contradictions served to confuse Ruth's children further, or did they somehow contribute to the balanced view of humanity that James McBride possesses?
  7. While reading the descriptions of the children's hunger, did you wonder why Ruth did not seek out some kind of assistance?
  8. Do you think it was naïve of Ruth McBride Jordan to think that her love for her family and her faith in God would overcome all potential obstacles or did you find her faith in God's love and guidance inspiring?
  9. How do you feel about Ruth McBride Jordan's use of a belt to discipline her children?
  10. While reading the book, were you curious about how Ruth McBride Jordan's remarkable faith had translated into the adult lives of her children? Do you think that faith is something that can be passed on from one generation to the next or do you think that faith that is instilled too strongly in children eventually causes them to turn away from it?
  11. Do you think it would be possible to achieve what Ruth McBride has achieved in today's society?

For information about other Penguin Readers Guides, please call the Penguin Marketing Department at (800) 778-6425, email at reading@penguinputnam.com or write to them at: Penguin Books, Marketing Department CC, Readers' Guides, 375 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014-3657

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Riverhead Books. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: We Set the Dark on Fire
    We Set the Dark on Fire
    by Tehlor Mejia
    On the island of Medio, a wall separates the wealthy elite from those less fortunate who lack the ...
  • Book Jacket: Black Leopard, Red Wolf
    Black Leopard, Red Wolf
    by Marlon James
    If you are looking for an indulgent, escapist fantasy, Black Leopard, Red Wolf may not be for you. ...
  • Book Jacket: That Time I Loved You
    That Time I Loved You
    by Carianne Leung
    Carrianne Leung was a Toronto Book Award finalist for That Time I Loved You as well as for her debut...
  • Book Jacket: The Pianist from Syria
    The Pianist from Syria
    by Aeham Ahmad
    Aeham Ahmad became famous as the face of Syrian suffering when a photo of him playing piano in the ...

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    American Princess
    by Stephanie Marie Thornton

    Rated 4.9 stars by BookBrowse members - one of the highest scores of all time!
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    The Last Year of the War
    by Susan Meissner

    A little-known story of WWII with great resonance for our times.
    Reader Reviews

Book Club
Book Jacket
Girls Burn Brighter
by Shobha Rao

An extraordinary and heart-rending tale of two girls with all the odds against them.

About the book
Join the discussion!
Book Club Giveaway!
Win The Summer Country

Win up to 12 copies to share with friends or your book club!

A sweeping epic of lost love, lies, jealousy, and rebellion set in colonial Barbados.

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

D T T! Full S A!

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.