The Color of Water by James McBride and The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
The Color of Water by James McBride
In The Color of Water, James McBride writes his biography; it is a tribute to the life of his mother Ruth Mc Bride. As the boy was growing, he did not know about the origin of his mother. Moreover, the woman would get offended every time she was asked questions that raised a deep confusion concerning her racial identity. Ruth was born in Poland and raised in a Jewish family that later migrated to the United States. His father was a travelling rabbi, who forced his family to settle in a small town in Virginia. During this time, the United States experienced elevated levels of racism, including schools segregation with intense discrimination against Blacks and the Jews. Ruth’s father opened a grocery store enriching on the high charges put on the black customers. In her early years, Ruth suffered from teasing and discrimination in the protestant church school. Her mother was another source of embarrassment to the family, as she was crippled on the left side by polio. Her mother was physically handicapped. The family was full of hatred and bereft of love.
In America, Ruth was her mother’s ears and eyes. After the completion of her high school education, she moved to New York to work at her aunt’s leather factory. However, she returned to Virginia after she had heard that her mother was not in good health, but eventually refused to stay at home. Soon after she had learned of her mother’s demise, her Jewish family disowned her. Like her mother, Ruth had been dealing with feelings of grief and sorrow for her entire life. Consequently, she even converted to Christianity in the effort to deal with grief, and found comfort in the new religion. When she was a child, Tateh (her father) sexually abused her and forced her to work in the family store. In addition, Tateh cheated on her mother with other women because of her handicapped condition. The whole neighborhood knew about his love affairs. Staying in the family was unbearable, and like her brother Sam who left home at the age of 15, Ruth decided to leave home. She ran away to escape the oppressive life at her home, and she was also pregnant with her boyfriend Peter. Her family disowned her for her preference to marry a black man over a Jewish man. They considered her a disgrace for failing to embrace her Judaism religion and her defiant father. She had promised her sister to return to Suffolk, but her efforts were fruitless, as she could not reconcile her family demands with her own marriage wish and the new Christian religion.
The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
In The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien reviles his protagonistic attitude towards the Vietnam War. Throughout the book, he reflects on his experiences and efforts in bringing back sense of redemption. On the other hand, he is also an antagonist as he is struggling with the inner conflict. He struggles with his feelings of guilt, hatred, and cowardice.
Chapter Four of the book is the best chapter that reviles the author’s attitudes and thoughts about the war. This chapter is an examination of the role of disgrace and embarrassment in the war. Here, the role of embarrassment is developed as a motivating factor for people to go to war. He questions his motives, acting as the beginning of his decisions to examine the cause and effects of war. By giving a description of his personal history, he makes a comment on the experiences and the confusions that the soldiers go through following the burden of their country’s demands. It illustrates how the Vietnam War fought by military was often conflicting, and reluctant. This narrative reveals how the man feels and desires justification for his decisions. He puts the reader on the position of a moral judge on his actions. He explains the power of war in changing an individual, transforming a naive person and forcing him/her to make crucial judgments.
In this chapter, O’Brian states that he has not spoken about his experiences about the war to any one of his family members. He describes how he had been living with the feeling of shame about the events that occurred in 1968, a month after his graduation from Macalester College, when he received his draft to battle in the Vietnam War. According to him, the whole idea of war is wrong, as it is impossible to be certain about the causes and the impacts of any war. For example, like most of the Americans, O’Brian is not aware of what happened in the Gulf of Tonkin. Furthermore, he also cannot describe the character of the president of Northern Vietnam in details. When the author was in college, he took a stand against the war; such that when his draft notice arrived urging him to go to the war, he thought that he was too superior to fight.
Even with the external pressures of the community encouraging him to go to the war, O’Brian doubted his decisions on whether to take the battle or run away. In the end, he ran away to work on a meat plant with a water gun. His job made him come home daily smelling of pigs blood, and in most of time, he would drive around the town thinking of the best way to escape his condition. Finally, he resents going home and fighting in a war, about which he knows nothing. After an extended period of fighting with his conscience on the implications of him running away from home not to participate in the war, he finally reached a conclusion. One day, the feelings of physical rapture overwhelmed him; he left his work and sent a note back to his family that he was going north along the Rainy River separating Minnesota from Canada. There, he finally reached a conclusion to go to war.
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