The Color of Water

The Color of Water Chapter 19 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
A few weeks after Ruth has officially parted ways with Rocky, she and Dennis start dating. He’s a violinist and a talented singer, but makes very little money, which is why, later in life, she tries to keep James from following the same career path. Dennis is so poor he can’t afford rent, and eventually goes to his family friends Curtis and Minnie Ware, who offer him a place to stay. Dennis introduces Ruth to the Wares and, although they’re shocked for a moment, they recover and invite her in.
Although Dennis is not technically family, Curtis and Minnie open their home to him as though he is. This is the beginning of Ruth’s extended, predominantly black family, made up of friends and the families of her husbands. Although her whiteness is shocking for a second, she is quickly accepted into Dennis’s world.
Themes
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Otherness and Belonging Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
At this time, in 1940, interracial relationships are very uncommon, but Dennis insists on being public with it, and introduces Ruth to all the members of his family. His family adopts Ruth as their own, and some, like his Aunt Candis, become invaluable sources of support for Ruth, helping her through Dennis’s death years later. Ruth falls in love with Dennis after only a few months, and Dennis suggests living as husband and wife before they get married for real, so Ruth moves out of Bubeh’s apartment and the pair move in together.
Being with Dennis is everything Ruth ever dreamed of. Finally, she has a community of people who love and accept her, people who will continue to support her and care about her wellbeing even after Dennis is gone. Unlike her first relationship with Peter, where they had to keep it secret because of the danger of racist violence, Ruth is happy that she can be public in her love for her soon-to-be husband.
Themes
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Otherness and Belonging Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
One day, Ruth misses her mother and decides to call home. Tateh answers and tells her Mameh is sick and he needs help with the store. Ruth feels that she needs to go back for Mameh, and so travels to Virginia. Mameh is getting sicker and sicker—almost blind in one eye, and prone to passing out—but remains a good Jewish wife, keeping house and cooking. Ruth remarks that today, Mameh would be seen as an abused woman, but back then she was just a wife, as Tateh’s abusive treatment was normalized.
Although Ruth has mostly left her family behind, she still feels some obligation to them, and feels especially indebted to Mameh. Looking back, Ruth realizes that her parents’ marriage was abusive, but at the time it just seemed like an unhappy partnership. Luckily, Ruth was able to understand how unhealthy the dynamic was as a young woman, and so was able to avoid the same kind of trauma in her own marriages.
Themes
Family Theme Icon
Although Mameh is a devoted wife, Tateh begins to cheat on her with a white Christian woman from the town. He has Ruth act as an intermediary between himself and Mameh, and tries to get Mameh to divorce him, which she refuses to do. Mameh is left with no one to take care of her—she’s sick and handicapped, with sisters who don’t care about her. When Mameh will not agree to a divorce Tateh goes to Reno and gets a divorce by himself. Still, things don’t change in the household. Everyone was miserable before the divorce, and everyone remains miserable after.
Tateh has no respect for Mameh, and seems to place no value on the family he’s been terrorizing for so long. Ruth doesn’t understand Tateh’s total disregard for her mother. Even though she will soon abandon her family to preserve her own wellbeing, it seems that Tateh was doing just fine as a member of the family and is divorcing Mameh out of spite, although it is unclear what she has ever done to anger him.
Themes
Family Theme Icon
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Ruth worries about how Dee-Dee, who is only fifteen, is being affected by the problems in their family. No one, Ruth included, talks to her about her feelings or what is going on in the family. One evening, Dee-Dee comes to Ruth and asks her not to go back to New York. She cries and makes Ruth promise to stay, which Ruth does. But Ruth doesn’t stay in Virginia, and Dee-Dee holds this against her forever.
Ruth and Dee-Dee are not very close, as no one in their family ever shared emotions. Ruth then destroys any chance at having a positive relationship with Dee-Dee when Dee-Dee is open with her for the first time, expressing how much she needs Ruth and how she wants Ruth to stay, but Ruth breaks her promise and leaves anyway. This isn’t because Ruth doesn’t love her sister, but because she cannot stay trapped in Suffolk.
Themes
Family Theme Icon