full title The Color of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother
author James McBride
type of work Memoir
genre Coming-of-age memoir, race relations
time and place written United States, 1990s
date of first publication 1996
publisher Riverhead Books
narrator James McBride
point of view The author alternates between his own first person voice and his mother's own words.
tone Straightforward narrative tone
tense For the most part, the book takes place in the past tense, as it recounts the past lives of James and Ruth. McBride uses the present tense when he talks about his current life, activities, and beliefs.
setting (time) James McBride tells the story of Ruth's life, which begins in the 1920s. He places emphasis on the 1930s, 40s and 50s. James's memoirs covers the 1960s through the 1990s.
setting (place) Suffolk, Virginia; New York City; Louisville, Kentucky; Oberlin, Ohio; Wilmington, Delaware
protagonist Ruth and James
major conflict James's struggle to come to terms with his racial identity and background
rising action Ruth's separation from her parents. Ruth's marriage to Dennis. James's confrontation with race relations in society in the 1960s.
climax A series of small climaxes in which Ruth and her son James confront issues of racial identity and difference
falling action Ruth's conversion to Christianity; James's search for racial identity
themes Past versus present; exclusion as a result of racial or religious difference; self-motivation and self-reliance; the burden of secrets
motifs Mother and son: interwoven voices; alienation versus solidarity; journalistic tone versus the emotion of experience
symbols Ruth's bicycle; Mameh's Love of Birds; Black Power
foreshadowing Ruth's relationship with her boyfriend Peter foreshadowed her later kinship with black people, and her marriages to black men. James's early love of music and writing foreshadowed his later adoption of those two enthusiasms in a professional context.