The Color of Water and The Sound of ‘Silence’

Hi all again. This is the third paper in the series of my literary reviews/criticisms that I published a few years back in a book of abstracts. So here we go.

In The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother James McBride presents the compelling concept of “Silence” that seems to be the anchor for the life of his mother, Ruth, a Jewish woman married to a Black man, Andrew Dennis McBride, James’ father. McBride emphasizes on the fact that “Silence” can play an important role in regulating the lives of people who come from very different walks of life and chose to share their lives together. He presents the capturing autobiography and memoir of a mother that reminiscence about being a white woman’s son in a Black people’s world. It is about his mother who is a Jewish white and who chooses to marry into the Black community. McBride emphasizes how difference in the color of the skin could be considered a big issue and what his mother, Ruth does after marrying James’ father to deal with the consequences of doing something different than the set ways of the society. She is disowned by her family for marrying a Black man instead of a Jewish man and for adopting Christianity. Ruth and Dennis also face some prejudice for having an inter-racial marriage. She later adopts “Silence” as a coping-mechanism after Dennis’s death and thereby handles things accordingly to raise their eight children. She remarries and has four more children later. But however, ‘silence’ seems to be her weapon in a society that still differentiates her from the rest on the basis of her skin color – she being a white woman with black husband and kids.

McBride states, “As a boy I always thought my mother was strange. She never cared to socialize with our neighbours. Her past was a mystery she refused to discuss. [….] She had an absolute distrust of authority and an insistence on complete privacy which seemed to make her and my family, even odder.” (6). His mother seems to have resorted to silence in order to take care of her twelve children and deal with the outside world that sees her as ‘different’, as ‘white’. He further writes, “She was the commander in chief of my house, because my stepfather did not live with us. [….] The nuts and bolts of raising us was left to Mommy, who acted as chief surgeon for bruises, war secretary, religious consultant, chief psychologist and financial advisor. Matters involving race and identity she ignored.” (6). Ruth seems to be the all-in-all for this family and that she does as a priority overlooking the issues related to her race and identity. Her silence about her past, however strange it might seem to her son, James, is because of the immense pain she keeps caged in her heart, a past that serves as a reminder of the oppression and sexual exploitation she is subjected to at the hands of her father. She decides not to talk about it and to rather direct all her energy and focus in raising her children properly.

There seems to be a thunderous sound of the silence she holds within her. And this seems to be audible to the entire world- a sound that distinctively calls for the ministers of indomitable spirit and determination to survive and excel – something that enables her not only to nourish her twelve children but also to provide them with the best of education and molding them into the finest human beings. With silence as her strongest asset, Ruth is the one who controls everything and keeps things running in her house. That indeed seems to be the most profound “sound of silence.”

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