James has a choice to make in chapter 16 of The Color of Water. What is it?

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Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Color of Water is the story James McBride tells after discovering who he is and from where he comes. His mother is a Jewish white woman and his father was a black man who died before James was born. His mother had to raise her twelve children alone for much of their lives, and most of the time she kept them moving forward and out of trouble. When her second husband dies, things are difficult for her, which creates some chaos for young James.

Before, James was a good student and fine musician, doing the right things more often than not. After his stepfather is gone, James begins to get in trouble in nearly every way. He flunks every one of his classes in school because he never attends. Instead, he spends his time smoking marijuana and committing petty crimes. He spends a summer with his sister, and nothing much changes. He spends much of his time hanging out on The Corner, along with a group of grown men, smoking pot and playing music.

When he returns home, though, James understands he must make a choice--to be somebody who accomplishes things in life, or to be the guy who lives a dissipated, unproductive life, hanging out on The Corner.  Ironically, the man who shared this choice with James was named Chicken man, and he was a regular at the The Corner. James chooses to make a change.