The Color of Water

The Color of Water Essay Questions

  1. 1

    Why does Ruth McBride Jordan begin her story by telling her son that she is "dead"? How does this statement specifically relate to the question of her identity?

  2. 2

    Why does James punch the son of a Black Panther on the school bus? What does this convey about James's confusion about identity and alliances related to race?

  3. 3

    How is the title of the book The Color of Water significant with respect to questions of race and religion? What vision does it offer to Americans?

  4. 4

    How are Ruth's name changes from "Ruchel Dwajra Zylska" to "Rachel Deborah Shilsky" to "Ruth McBride Jordan" significant? What do they each represent with respect to the identity and life lived by James's mother?

  5. 5

    James writes about his mother: "It took many years to find out who she was, partly because I never knew who I was" (261). Why is this statement significant? What does it tell the reader about personal identity, generally?

  6. 6

    While James desires to claim his mother's history, his mother, for many years, survived by denying it altogether. Why does this book, a collaboration that James pushed for and his mother resisted, succeed? What does its success have to do with the braiding of their two voices?

  7. 7

    What kind of "education" did James receive from Chicken Man during the summers in Louisville, Kentucky?

  8. 8

    Why did Ruth fall in love with a black man and the black community generally?

  9. 9

    What did James inherit from his mother?

  10. 10

    It could be argued that both Tateh and Ruth ran their households in a "tyrannical" manner. Why did Ruth succeed, while her father failed? How were their child-rearing styles different, and how were they the same?