In the novel The Color of Water by James McBride, what does James's mother value?

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James McBride's The Color of Water is openly defined as "a Black man's tribute to his white mother." As a white, Jewish woman, his mother, Ruth, chooses to marry a black man in 1942. This took place at a time in history where interracial marriages were not as readily accepted as they are today.

There are numerous things that James illustrates throughout the text that his mother values.


Ruth valued determination. With all of the hardships she faced (an abusive father and mild mother, constant moving around, and the oppression of the South), Ruth was determined to do better for herself.


As a white Jewish woman, Ruth already faced discrimination. Her choice to marry a black man allowed for further discrimination. Yet, she knew who she was and what she wanted in life. If she had not been who she was on the inside, she never would have been able to impact her own family as she did.

Mental Well-being

As the daughter of an abusive father, Ruth did not begin life on the easy path. She, like her brother, wanted to escape her destructive family early in her life. Ruth knew that ridding herself of them was something which was necessary for her own mental well-being. Given all of the challenges she faced and decisions she was required to make about her own family, Ruth needed to insure herself that her own mental well-being was important to her family's.

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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.

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