What does McBride learn from Eddie Thompson in chapter 20 of The Color of Water?

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Chapter 20 of James McBride's book The Color of Water is an account of his journey to discover his mother's past. To do so, he must journey back to the place she left her family, Suffolk, Virginia. He arrives in town with nothing but a hand-drawn map his mother made for him and which is obviously not particularly accurate after so many years have passed. James discovers the spot where the general store his mother's family owned and ran used to be, and there is an old house. When he knocks on the door, an old man named Eddie Thompson answers; James has a chance to ask him many questions about his mother's family, and his grandfather, in particular. When Eddie sees James and finds out who he is, he laughs outrageously at the irony of the situation--a man who hates black people has a black grandson.

What James discovers is that his grandfather was a bigot who hated blacks and cheated them at every opportunity. He learns that his kind grandmother used to sneak her customers candy or pieces of fruit when her husband was not there, as she was afraid of him. James learns that Eddie knew his mother and her siblings when they were young, and he finds out his grandfather left his wife for a fat gentile woman, despite the fact that he was a rabbi and supposedly lived by Jewish law. Finally, when James says he wishes he could find his grandfather, Eddie tells him he is dead and then points to the ground, perhaps indicating hell. It was an enlightening conversation for James as he researched his Jewish heritage.

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