The Color of Water

How did James’ mother’s situation and personality motivate her?


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When Ruth's name is changed from Ruchel Dwajra Zylska to Rachel Deborah Shilsky, she undergoes a formal "Americanization". In high school, when she first begins going by Ruth instead of Rachel to appear less outwardly Jewish, she also undergoes another kind of change. When she moves away to New York, marries, and begins raising a family of her own as Ruth McBride Jordan, she becomes the kind of American who actively chooses her own destiny.

Ruth moves with her husband and their four children to Brooklyn's Red Hook Housing Projects, a place that she describes as exemplifying the "real American life" she has always dreamed of. As each of her twelve children finish college, become teachers, doctors, musicians, and businessmen and raise families of their own, another kind of "American Dream" comes true for Ruth. She wills herself and her family to achieve the "American dream" through discipline, hard work, and education.