The Color of Water is a unique autobiography which alternates chapters between James McBride and his mother. Each of them tells their story of growing up and accepting the realities of their pasts.
James's mother, Ruth, is quite a character. She is eccentric in nearly every way, but she is unwavering about several things, and these are the things she values.
First, she values her own privacy. She is unwilling to answer questions, even from her own children, about her past. It is clear that she has things to hide, something which particularly troubles James for many years; however, she is unwilling to answer any questions or offer any insight into her past until quite late in her life.
Because of this, she also values her family's privacy. She is adamant that her children bring her every scrap of paper they are given, and she refuses to let any of them talk about their family to outsiders.
Finally, James's mother values education. She insists on placing her children in Jewish schools rather than the public schools in their neighborhood. When she has to make a choice between education and food, she chooses education, and she expects her children to capitalize on their opportunities. Most of them do.
It is evident in the way she raises all twelve of her children that Ruth values her own privacy, her family's privacy, and her children's educations.