The Color of Water by James McBride is a tribute to his life as well as an autobiography. The book highlights the life of his mother, Ruth McBride and how he came from Poland to the United States. The author begins with the background of her mother, where she was born and how she came to live in the United States. In the book, McBride writes that his mother came from Poland, and she was initially from an orthodox Jewish family. Her original name was Rachel Deborah Shilsky, and her father was a rabbi. It was the idea of her father that they lived in a small southern town.
McBride explains how his mother overcame the strict regime of his father and married Andrew McBride, who was a black man. The book examines the life that McBride and his family led to the demise of their father at the age of 45 due to lung cancer (McBride 45). His mother had to do menial jobs to provide for the family. McBride writes how he started to rebel against his mother at the age of 14. He did this by starting to drink and engage in drug-related activities. McBride further looks at how he was in confusion regarding his identity. McBride provides an insight into the life of a child that is divided into two worlds and that of a mother who is trying to fit into a system that hates her race. The paper will analyze the characters in the book using psychoanalytic criticism to demonstrate how childhood events affect a person actions during adulthood.
Psychoanalytic literary criticism of the color of water
The behavior of people according to Freud is affected by their unconscious (Freud, Lieberman, and Robert 16). By unconscious, Freud meant that individuals are motivated by needs, desires, fears, and even conflicts which they are unaware. The unconscious is influenced by the childhood of a person according to Freud. Each has gone through a lot as a child and these events shape their future lives. A child that had a tormented childhood will suffer in the future, for example, he or she may be shy or antisocial. On the contrary, a child that was brought up with love and care is more likely to be outgoing, and his or her quality of life will be better (Mohr 859). This phenomenon can be witnessed in the society as seen by troubled children growing up to be problematic in future. Most successful people came from backgrounds that included a deep understanding of family relations and respecting one another choices.
In the story The color of water, we manage to encounter the character, Ruth McBride. Ruth was born in Poland, but her family migrated to the United States. His father was abusive and led the family to settle in Virginia a place the family was not comfortable. Ruth was born Rachel Deborah Shilsky, but she later changed the name. Ruth whole her life has been living a life that has been filled with numerous conflict. One such conflict is her love for all the people. She is a person that does not discriminate against color. Her father, however, raised the family in such a way that they could disrespect the black people without a sense of guilt. Ruth admits that his father was a racist individual. Most of his dealings with black people involved overcharging them. He saw them as a lesser being, and this affected Ruth through her adult life. This atmosphere greeted Ruth all her life where she had to witness people from a certain color being hated on without any reason. Ruth resisted the prejudices of her father only in her heart. She was still living in her father’s house and there is no way she could have revolted against him. She sympathized with the black people and wanted to help them so much, but she had no power. This is what created her personality where she ended up marrying a black person instead of what her family wanted.
Conversely, the Jews were treated as second citizens in the south. This left her facing hardship such as those suffered by the black people. She could identify and feel the suffering of the black people. As much as she repressed these feelings when growing, her unconscious side was working, and she ended up marrying a black person. To her, all white people had hate in their hearts. Her family was white and even the white could not stand them just because they came from a certain country. To her, the only people that seemed to have no hate for other races are the blacks. Ruth could identify better with the black people. As much as her father wanted nothing to do with the black people, she could not help but ended up marrying Andrew McBride, a black person. The way she was brought up playing a role in her choice. If she had been brought up by a father who was caring, loving and one who had little discriminatory traits, she would have probably married a Jew like herself. The hate that her father carried around against the black community could not allow her to be close to the Jews. Her fear of having another man that would hate the black people played a greater role in her decision to get married to a black person. Her unconscious saw that any white man is a racist to some extent. All through her life, she had only encountered white hating against blacks or against themselves.
The way that Ruth was raised not only led to her marrying a black person contrary to her family’s wishes, but she also changed her name. She was initially referred to as Rachel Deborah Shilsky. She changed the name when she was in college. One of her reason for changing the name was that the initial name was Jewish and wanted one which sounded American. It can be seen that Ruth started to hate being a Jew from an early age. Her upbringing had exposed her to excessive negativity. Apart from her father’s abuse and their negativity against the backs, she was also discriminated against as a Jew in the South. The discrimination that she faced as a Jew probably made her change the name. She wanted to be identified by the American people as an American. Ruth did not want the criticism and hate she faced as a Jew. Students in school would make fun of her and her name attracted attention and ridicule among her peers. The only solution was to change the name to counter such vices in school. Conversely, she may have changed her name to distance herself from the ways of his father who was a Jew. By changing her name, she could feel that at least she could reinvent herself and respect the black people. Analyzing the picture that she painted, she wanted to distance himself from such a negativity and probably help herself in the process. Changing her name gave her a sense of peace and power over her future. For once she could not identify with the people that she despised.
James McBride, the son of Ruth the lead character also faced some issues with his identity. While her mother faced problems identifying herself as a Jew, James had the problem of identifying himself as a black man. At the time, black people hated the whites with a passion. In the 1960s when racial tension was at its highest, James had a problem reconciling his race because his mother was white and his father a black. Due to his mother’s whiteness, James was constantly embarrassed because it showed her difference with the parents of his peers. All his friends had both sets of parents black. He was the only odd one out. He wanted to hate the white people but could not because her mother was white too and she was nice to them and other black people. This childhood memory later in life resulted in him engaging in drug abuse. He was also involved in crime. The crime can be taken as an alternative to evade his identity crisis or resolve his issues with his stand among the black people. Her mother, however, chose only to change her name to resolve her identity issues regarding being a Jew and her objective to feel American
Freud explains that an individual who has conflicting issues will seek to bury them in their unconscious through different ways (Freud, Lieberman, and Robert 65). Fear is the main factor that drives people to bury issues in their unconscious (Sears 280). However, this issues can be witnessed after some time. A person will expunge these unhappy psychological events later in life. Ruth’s parent forced her on Judaism. This is not a religion that she chose but more of a religion that she inherited from her parents. Being forced to practice Judaism caused her to resent Judaism. These unhappy memories or events had been buried deep within her, but as she grew, she started to see clearly how she can escape such a prison. Her marriage to a black person was the starting point of her change. Ruth converted to Christianity after she moved to New York. She was living in Harlem at this time just after the death of her husband. Ruth becomes immersed in church’s activities in the local community and she even later opens her church. The separation of her family gave Ruth the chance to source some relief from the guilt she felt. Her father with some of her family members had done some things that haunted her, and she found relief in Christianity. Christianity gave her the power of forgiveness and she could forgive herself for being part of such a family that had been mean to some people just because of the color of their skin.
James had gone through rough patches in his life just like his mother. He wanted to relieve himself all the bad things he had done in life. James had been in denial for a long time. He had not reconciled his identity or place in the racial fight. The whites were the evil people according to the black community. His mother was white and each moment they were together it further complicated the issue. Just like her mother overcame her denial by changing to Christianity, James also overcame his denial by leaving drugs and crime. James had become intertwined in the vices of the society that the black youths were known for. He later understood the consequence of his actions and how much time he had wasted on such useless things in life. His friends also advised him against such actions and the potential consequence of his actions. Out of concern for his future, James changed slowly. He forgave himself of the earlier undertakings. Just like her mother turned to Christianity to find relief, James turned to music and writing to heal from the guilt that he carried around. The guilt of wasting his life and carrying out actions that had compromised his future. Both changed the destiny of their lives and choose for the better. Ruth followed her path to self-freedom where she could reconcile her past. A place where she could find peace and feel forgiven for the action of her people, especially the father. James chose to be a good person and left all the crime related activities. He had to reconcile his past and choose a path which could help him become a better person in the community.
The relationship that people have since they were toddlers is essential for the mental growth of an individual. Most people hide their unhappy events during childhood as they grow. These events are exhibited in different ways. Like Fred argued the actions that a person carries while unconscious is determined by childhood events. The book the color of water shows how powerful childhood events are to a person. These unhappy events are transformed into certain character traits which are harmful to an individual. These character compromise with the future or it brings with it bad consequences. It is, therefore, important for a child to be brought up in a proper environment. An environment that cares and loves is given unconditionally. It is only through such an environment that the society will get rids of some evil people in the society.