The Color of Water

by James McBride

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In The Color of Water, what is unique about Ruth's childhood experiences?

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In The Color of Water, Ruth McBride’s childhood is unusual for several related reasons. First, Ruth and her family immigrated from Poland when she was a little girl. This already made her and her family unusual in the United States between the world wars because their new country was overwhelmingly Christian. Her father contributed to her unorthodox upbringing by trying his luck as a traveling rabbi, which meant Ruth did not have the typical stable childhood that many of her peers enjoyed, thus further alienating her from the communal experiences of other children.

Settling permanently in Suffolk, Virginia, continued to have an outsider’s effect on Ruth as she grew up. Surrounded by those, including her father, who did not believe in racial equality, Ruth found herself sympathetic to black people, who also had to live a life made more difficult by the white majority. Her nontraditional childhood of always being on the outside of the mainstream helped her push past the racial prejudice that surrounded her. Eventually, she married a black man and converted to Christianity because she liked its emphasis on forgiveness.

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