- Place Suffolk, Virginia (Ruth's hometown); New York City (James McBride's home during most of his childhood); Wilmington, Delaware (James's family moved to Delaware in his teen years)
- Time James's life (the part of his life written about in The Color of Water): 1960-90 and Ruth's life (the part of her life written about): Started in 1920, emphasis on 1930s, '40s, and '50s
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