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The Color of Water by James McBride

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					The Color of Water by James McBride
ASSIGNMENT #1
Chapters 1-4 Due:________________________________
Vocabulary: kaddish, shiva, meek, clunker, nonchalance, imminent, contraption,
infallible, claustrophobic, stridency, divulge, paranoia, providence, tyranny, contradiction,
champion (in verb form), affront
1. In the first page of the book, James invites us to read his story. What is his lure (his
„hook‟ to draw the reader in)?
2. How does James view his mother?
3. How do the two voices differ?
4. What is James‟ revolution like?
5. What is Mama‟s family like?
6. How did Richie torment James?
7. Why did James have mixed feelings about Black Power?

ASSIGNMENT #2
Chapters 5-7 Due:________________________________
Vocabulary: azaleas, billow, connoisseur, wharf, submissive
1. What is Mama‟s childhood like?
2. Why does Mama embrace her life so enthusiastically?
3. Explain the color of God‟s spirit.
4. What is the time period (p. 60)?
5. What is Mama‟s brother, Sam, like?
6. Why is Tateh‟s favorite line ironic (p. 61)?

ASSIGNMENT #3
Chapter 8     Due:________________________________
Vocabulary: hordes, devour, denizen, peripheral, epicenter, lament, barrage, commentary,
dilapidated
1. What is “orchestrated chaos”?
2. Describe the sibling rivalry in the house.
3. What did Dennis accomplish?
4. What happened to Helen?

ASSIGNMENT #4
Chapter 9       Due:________________________________
Vocabulary: headstone
1. “You know a Jew living in Suffolk when I was coming up could be lonely even if
there were fifteen of them standing in the room, I don‟t know why…” (p. 81). Explain
what Ruth means as she describes growing up Jewish in Suffolk.
2. Describe Ruth‟s relationship with Frances.
3. How does today‟s concept of “poor” differ from the concept of “poor” from Ruth‟s
youth?
ASSIGNMENT #5
Chapter 10 Due:________________________________
Vocabulary: insular, tacitly, passive, derision
1. Why does James consider Jewish people to be “slightly different from other white
folks” (p. 86)?
2. “Being the token Negro was never something I was completely comfortable with” (p.
89). What does James mean by this?
3. What is James‟s relationship with the boy in the mirror?
4. How do the members of James‟s family make sense of the idea of “racial identity”?
5. Define the “king/queen system” (p. 98).
6. Similar to William from Big Fish, James reaches a point when he is embarrassed of
his mother. Why?
7. Explain James‟s conflicted emotions after he finished the James Brown dance for his
white classmates.

ASSIGNMENT #6
Chapter 11 Due:________________________________
Vocabulary: gentile, chastise
1. How did Ruth‟s poor family life make her prone to falling so deeply in love?
2. Explain Ruth‟s feelings in this quote about her hometown, “You know death was
always around Suffolk, always around. It was always so hot, and everyone was so polite,
and everything was all surface but underneath it was like a bomb waiting to go off” (p.
111).
3. Why shouldn‟t the reader by surprised by Mameh‟s (Ruth‟s mother) insightful nature?

Chapter 12
Vocabulary: inadvertently, epitomize
1. We learn of James‟s struggle to understand the concept of “father”. Explain.
2. How does James feel about his step-father, Hunter Jordan?
3. What does Hunter Jordan tell James at the close of this chapter?

Chapter 13
1. Describe Mameh‟s family.
2. Explain Ruth‟s relationship with Bubeh.
3. How were Mameh‟s sisters “trying hard to be American” (p. 135)?

ASSIGNMENT #7
Chapter 14 Due:________________________________
Vocabulary: bilge, insular
1. Explain the impact of Hunter Jordan‟s death on James and on Ruth. Use details from
   the text to support your answers.
2. “The three summers I spent at Vermont Liquors on the Corner- which Big Richard
   pronounced “Coner”- were my true street education” (p. 144). Explain the truth
   behind this statement by James McBride.
3. What role does Chicken Man play in the education of James?
ASSIGNMENT #8
Chapters 15-19           Due:________________________________
Vocabulary: baccalaureate, clairvoyancy, stupor, reveille, contingency
1. How is Mameh Tateh‟s wife in name only?
2. How does Ruth know that “in [her] heart [she] was still a Jew” (158)?
3. “Her past had always been a secret to us, and remained so even after my stepfather
    died, but what she had left behind was so big, so complete that she could never leave
    it” (p. 163). Explain James‟s realization of his mother‟s “silent suffering”.
4. How does Ruth respond to the life she was handed with “speed and motion”?
5. What is ironic about Mommy‟s driving?
6. What is Rocky‟s role in Ruth‟s life?
7. Is the move to Delaware a positive or a negative change for James and his family?
    Explain.
8. It is stated that Delaware‟s public school system “forced her hand” (p. 182). What
    does this phrase mean and how does it apply to Ruth‟s actions?
9. What is Mrs. Dawson‟s role in James‟s life? How does his relationship with her lead
    to internal conflict on the issue of rich “whiteys”?
10. Explain the racial reality of Delaware.
11. Why did Dennis move to New York in his middle twenties?
12. While Ruth is finding true love with Dennis, her parents‟ marriage is slowly
    dissolving. What is causing this marital unraveling?
13. Explain the reason behind the title of chapter 19.


ASSIGNMENT #9
Chapters 20-23        Due:________________________________
Vocabulary: irk, feeble, stately, macabre, veered
1. How is James caught between worlds?
2. Why does James drive to Suffolk, Virginia? What does he discover?
3. Despite divorcing her, how does Tateh still try to use Mameh against Ruth?
4. What is the importance of the contents of the packed lunch Mameh makes Ruth?
5. How does Dennis help Ruth overcome her tremendous amounts of guilt?
6. Explain the importance of the title of chapter 21.
7. How is James “a Jew discovered”?
8. What does James learn about his past from Aubrey Rubenstein? How does James
    gain a more empathetic insight into his grandmother?
9. Why does Ruth stay “on the black side”?
10. Why does Ruth embrace Christianity?


ASSIGMENT #10
Chapters 24 and Epilogue Due:________________________________
Vocabulary: dowry, dais, nebulous, compound, obsequious, verboten, bourgeoisie,
amorphous, labyrinth
1. Why did Ruth vow never to return to New Brown (a vow she often broke)?
2. “Give my black face and upbringing it was easy for me to flee into the anonymity of
   blackness, yet I felt frustrated to live in a world that considers the color of your face
   an immediate political statement whether you like it or not” (p. 262). James considers
   himself to be black. Is this a true choice or is he thrown into this identity? Explain.
3. This is a story of a man searching to find his mother‟s true identity. Ironically, James
   didn‟t even really know himself. Explain how James changes along his inner journey.
4. This book largely concerns a family that lives between two cultures, African-
   American and Jewish. What problems and opportunities does this situation bring?




SELF SELECT EXTENSION                  Due:__________________________________
For 7 of the 10 assignments of your choice, you will omit one question to answer. In lieu
of this question, you will create your own high-level question and you will answer it in
considerable detail. These seven questions with their corresponding answers will be
handed in at once at the close of our reading. Please organize your paper in the following
manner:

ASSIGNMENT #1
Omitted #3
Question: What is the historical significance of the 1920‟s on Ruth‟s identity
development?
Answer: The historical significance of the decade on….

				
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