What is the author's style in The Color of Water by James McBride?

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The author of The Color of Water, James McBride, uses two very distinct styles in order to convey the different points of view and backgrounds of he and his mother in his memoir/autobiography.

For example, in the odd chapters, he writes in the first-person point of view of...

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The author of The Color of Water, James McBride, uses two very distinct styles in order to convey the different points of view and backgrounds of he and his mother in his memoir/autobiography.

For example, in the odd chapters, he writes in the first-person point of view of his mother, and he uses italics to convey that they are her actual words from an interview. The style is very informal and conversational. For example, in the chapter entitled "Kosher," his mother is describing the many strict, idiosyncratic rules of Judaism to her son, who was not raised in that culture. In her words, he writes:

You need to read up on it because I ain't no expert. They got folks who write whole books about it, go find them and ask them! Or read the Bible! Shoot! Who am I? I ain't nobody! I can't be telling the world this! I don't know! (p. 17)

In contrast, in the even chapters, McBride describes his childhood experiences using a very formal, descriptive tone with figurative language and imagery in order to help the reader picture what is happening. For example, when describing how his white mother rode a bicycle in their black neighborhood he writes:

She rode so slowly that if you looked at her from a distance it seemed as if she weren't moving, the image frozen, painted against the spring sky, a middle-aged white woman on an antique bicycle with black kids zipping past her on Sting-Ray bikes and skateboards, popping wheelies and throwing baseballs that whizzed past her head, tossing firecrackers that burst all around her (p.8)

McBride uses these starkly different styles to serve different purposes. In the odd chapters, he is strictly providing his mother's version of her life from her point of view, so he sticks to the language she used during her interviews. The informal style of her dialogue, such as her use of slang and vernacular, reveal her background: she was a child of immigrant parents who was forced to work hard from a young age and, therefore, had a limited education, so she had to be tough and direct.

On the other hand, McBride's eloquent, descriptive voice reveals how different his life's path was from his mother's. It was clear that he had formal training in writing and a great education (because of her). Although she was poor and uneducated and had to raise twelve children with little help, she instilled the importance of education and faith in her children, which meant that his accomplishment of becoming a writer was also hers, and his memoir was a tribute to her.

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The Color of Water is a combined autobiography and memoir. In the odd-numbered chapters, McBride tells the story of his mother in her own voice, and these chapters use italics. He is able to capture the voice of his mother, a Jewish woman who later told her children that she was a light-skinned black woman. For example, in Chapter 1, he writes in his mother's voice, "My family mourned me when I married your father. They said kaddish and sat shiva" (page 2). He uses the Hebrew words that his mother might have used as a child, and he captures his mother's world. 

In even-numbered chapters, he tells his own story in a non-italicized font. He writes about his confusion about his mother's identity in his own voice, one that is very different from that of his mother. He writes, for example, "Mommy's contradictions crashed and slammed against one another like bumper cars in Coney Island" (page 29). Eventually, he puts together the story of his mother's identity in a memoir that is made more powerful by combining his voice with that of his mother. 

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