The Color of Water

by James McBride

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What were Mommy’s early years in Virginia were marked by in The Color of Water?

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Mommy's early years in Virginia were marked by harshness, isolation, and loneliness.  Much of her unhappiness was caused by her father, a severe, domineering man.  Mommy's father was a not-too-skilled rabbi, who followed Jewish law meticulously but showed no love at all for his family.  Mommy says,

"I was terrified of my father.  He put the fear of God in me" (Chapter 9). 

Forced to help open the family store early each morning, then come straight home from school and work there again until late at night, Mommy's life was strictly regimented by her father.  He allowed her no freedom and only sent her to school with "the gentiles" because it was the law (Chapter 11).  Because of the hard work of his family, Mommy's father amassed a lot of money, but Mommy always felt that she was

"poor, and starving...I was starving for love and affection.  I didn't get none of that" (Chapter 9).

Mommy always felt that "nobody liked (her)" as a child.  In the South during those times, there was much prejudice and ill-feeling towards Jews.  Jews "weren't allowed to own property", and there would be signs saying "for White Anglo-Saxon Protestants only".  Mommy was ostracized at school by her white classmates, and "even among Jews (her) family was low because (they) dealt with shvartses", or Negroes, in their business. Tormented and left out by the white children, Mommy didn't have many Jewish friends either (Chapter 9).

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