What is the major conflict in The Color Of Water by James McBride?

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rreitmeyer123 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The conflicts in The Color of Water are different for each of the characters. Rachel’s main conflict comes out of her love for Peter. Peter is a black man while Rachel is white; at the time the story takes place blacks and whites were not even meant to be friends or even associates. Not only was their love for each other forbidden, Rachel becomes pregnant with Peter's child. A white woman being pregnant with the child of a black man could have gotten them both hung in the South at that time. Being pregnant and loving a man she should not even have a conversation with is the conflict that Rachel is faced with in the story. Sadly her story does not have a happy ending. Rachel’s mother finds out about the pregnancy. Her mother does not seem angered by this; in fact she sends Rachel to stay with her aunt in New York because they are more tolerant there. Rachel tells her aunt about the pregnancy as well, and her aunt has a drastically different approach to the situation as she procures an abortion for Rachel. After the abortion Rachel returns home only to find that Peter, the black man that she loved, had gotten another girl pregnant. As you can imagine she is depressed at the thought that he obviously did not love her as she thought, but she is also relieved because while her conflict was not resolved happily, it was resolved. 

James is another character to face a major conflict in his life. His conflict revolves around the choices he makes as he is growing up, and how making poor choices and falling in with a bad crowd can upset your life. In his story James drops out of school and starts hanging with some bad kids. At first the situation does not at seem so bad; they were just a bunch of kids smoking Marijuana, drinking, and listening to music. The situation changes quickly as he and his new group start robbing liquor stores and stealing women’s purses for money. James seems very much stuck in this circle of stealing and drinking until his mother is able to pull him out. When James’ mother finds out that he has not been attending school she sends him away to live with his sister. While living with his sister he meets the Chicken Man, who is able to help James change.