The Color of Water

The Color of Water Chapter 23 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
In 1942 Ruth and Dennis lived together like husband and wife, although they are unmarried. Some black people are critical of the union (a woman in their apartment building once punches Ruth in the face, and one night Denis and Ruth almost cause a race riot) but mostly they are accepted. After Ruth’s mother dies, she feels disconnected from her white past and commits to “the black side.”
Dennis and Ruth’s interracial relationship is scandalous to people both black and white. Although white people seem to be more opposed to their union, which contributes to Ruth’s choice to live in a black neighborhood and make black friends, some black people are also disturbed by the couple.
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Dennis brings Christianity into Ruth’s life, along with the struggle for equal rights, and Southern food. During the week Dennis and Ruth go to the movies and watch musicians perform, but on Sunday they go see Rev. Abner Brown preach at the Metropolitan Baptist Church. A few months after the death of her mother, Ruth decides she’s ready to join the church officially, and during that weekend’s service she commits herself.
Joining the church represents the official death of Rachel, and the rebirth of Ruth as a proud Christian. It also marks the beginning of Ruth’s inclusion in a series of new communities — Christianity generally, but the churches she chooses to frequent more specifically.
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Ruth eventually begins to work as church secretary, and as she gets more religious she becomes embarrassed that she and Dennis are not married. They get the paperwork at city hall (although no one wants to write up the license), and Rev. Brown marries them in his private office in the church. During their reception in their friends’ apartment, Dennis warns Ruth that people will gossip about them and try to break them apart, but they must remain strong.
Ruth worries that she and Dennis are living in sin and so she convinces him to get married. The racism they face every day extends to city hall, where public servants whose job is to issue marriage licenses are morally opposed to the interracial marriage. Still, they manage to get the paperwork and are married in a Christian ceremony.
Themes
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In 1943 Ruth and Dennis have their first child and move to a one-room kitchenette. They live in that room for nine years, and have four children. In 1950 they move to the Red Hook Housing Project in Brooklyn, which, with its two bedrooms, feels luxurious. Ruth and Dennis continue to go to Rev. Brown at Metropolitan for a few years, but after Rev. Brown dies of a heart attack Dennis gets a divinity degree and they found their own church. They eventually find a building they like, but as the owner will not sell to Dennis, Ruth goes in and signs the lease. They name the church “New Brown Memorial” after Rev. Brown.
Ruth’s new family, made up of her husband and her children, is the most important community in her life, and the group she is happiest to belong to. Still church plays a huge role in her life, to the point where, just as they’ve created a biological family, she and Dennis decide to create a spiritual one as well with the founding of their own church.
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In 1957 Dennis gets what seems to be a bad cold. He gets worse and worse, and so Ruth takes him to the hospital. Once there, he continues to get sicker. The doctors do not communicate with Ruth because they disapprove of the relationship, and so she doesn’t understand how severe the illness is.
Even in a life or death situation, the doctors’ bigotry and racism prevents them from sharing crucial details of Dennis’s illness with Ruth.
Themes
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When Dennis in the hospital Ruth realizes she’s pregnant, and Dennis decides they’ll name the child James, if he’s a boy. Ruth feels in her heart that her husband is going to die, and she brings the children by to wave at him through the hospital window, because there are too many to come inside. On April 5, 1957 Ruth receives a call from the hospital—her husband has died of cancer.
After her husband’s death Ruth does her best to forget him, but what she never discusses is the fact that James, with his name given to him by his father, is a living memory of Dennis. Although James is less interested in his father’s past than his mother’s, the timing of his birth forever connects him to the father he never met.
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Ruth buries her husband in North Carolina, where his family lives, and when she returns to New York she finds the mailbox full of checks, cash, and money orders from neighbors and friends. Jack and Aunt Candis come up to help, as do local family friends. Still, Ruth reaches out to her Jewish family for help. Aunt Betsy slams the door on her, and when she calls her sister Dee-Dee she just reminds Ruth that she asked her to stay, and Ruth broke her promise.
After the death of her husband Ruth’s extended family comes to the rescue. Her neighbors, her friends, and Dennis’s relatives all reach out to comfort her and help her navigate this tragedy. Ironically, although her found family is incredibly helpful in her time of need, Ruth’s biological family literally slams the door on her, as they saw her departure from Suffolk and her interracial marriage as a betrayal.
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Luckily, not long after the death of Dennis, Ruth meets Hunter Jordan. She’s hesitant to marry him, but Aunt Candis tells her it’s the right thing to do, and Dennis’s parents give her their blessing to remarry. Hunter promises to help Ruth the rest of her life if she marries him, which she does, and he keeps his word.
Dennis’s family sees Ruth as one of them, even after Dennis has died. They care about her wellbeing and the wellbeing of her children, which is why they encourage her to remarry if it will make her happy.
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