The character of Mameh / Hudis Shilsky in The Color of Water from LitCharts | The creators of SparkNotes

The Color of Water

Mameh / Hudis Shilsky Character Analysis

Ruth’s mother, whose full name is Hudis Shilsky. She was born in 1896 in Poland to a wealthy Orthodox Jewish family. Polio paralyzed half of her body, and left her in poor health for the rest of her life. She never learned to speak English, and instead relied on Ruth to translate for her during her decades in America. She was in many ways the perfect, devoted Jewish wife, cooking and cleaning for her husband, but Tateh neither loved nor respected her, and their marriage was deeply troubled.

Mameh / Hudis Shilsky Quotes in The Color of Water

The The Color of Water quotes below are all either spoken by Mameh / Hudis Shilsky or refer to Mameh / Hudis Shilsky. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Race and Racism Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Riverhead edition of The Color of Water published in 2006.
Chapter 13 Quotes

I was always grateful to Aunt Betts for that. Even though she slammed the door in my face years later, I never felt bitter toward her. She had her own life and her own set of hurts to deal with, and after all, I wasn’t her child. Mameh’s sisters were more about money than anything else, and any hurts that popped up along the way, they just swept them under the rug. They were trying hard to be American, you know, not knowing what to keep and what to leave behind. But you know what happens when you do that. If you throw water on the floor it will always find a hole, believe me.

Page Number: 135
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 21 Quotes

“I know you’re gonna marry a shvartse. You’re making a mistake.” That stopped me cold, because I didn’t know how he learned it. To this day I don’t know. He said, “If you marry a nigger, don’t ever come home again. Don’t come back.”
“I’ll always come to see Mameh.”
“Not if you marry a nigger you won’t,” he said. “Don’t come back.”

Page Number: 215
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 22 Quotes

As I walked along the wharf and looked over the Nansemond River, which was colored an odd purple by the light of the moon, I said to myself, “What am I doing here? This place is so lonely. I gotta get out of here.” It suddenly occurred to me that my grandmother had walked around here and gazed upon this water many times, and the loneliness and agony that Hudis Shilsky felt as a Jew in this lonely southern town—far from her mother and sisters in New York, unable to speak English, a disabled Polish immigrant whose husband had no love for her and whose dreams of seeing her children grow up in America vanished as her life drained out of her at the age of forty-six—suddenly rose up in my blood and washed over me in waves. A penetrating loneliness covered me, lay on me so heavily I had to sit down and cover my face. I had no tears to shed. They were done long ago, but a new pain and a new awareness were born inside me. The uncertainty that lived inside me began to dissipate; the ache that the little boy who stared in the mirror felt was gone. My own humanity was awakened, rising up to greet me with a handshake as I watched the first glimmers of sunlight peek over the horizon.

Page Number: 228
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 23 Quotes

There was no turning back after my mother died. I stayed on the black side because that was the only place I could stay. The few problems I had with black folks were nothing compared to the grief white folks dished out. With whites it was no question. You weren’t accepted to be with a black man and that was that. They’d say forget it. Are you crazy? A nigger and you? No way. They called you white trash. That’s what they called me. Nowadays these mixed couples get on TV every other day complaining, “Oh, it’s hard for us.” They have cars and television and homes and they’re complaining. Jungle fever they call it, flapping their jaws and making the whole thing sound stupid. They didn’t have to run for their lives like we did.

Page Number: 232
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 24 Quotes

Sometimes without conscious realization, our thoughts, our faith, our interests are entered into the past…We talk about other times, other places, other persons, and lose our living hold on the present. Sometimes we think if we could just go back in time we would be happy. But anyone who attempts to reenter the past is sure to be disappointed. Anyone who has ever revisited the place of his birth after years of absence is shocked by the differences between the way the place actually is, and the way he has remembered it. He may walk along old familiar streets and roads, but he is a stranger in a strange land. He has thought of this place as home, but he finds he is no longer here even in spirit. He has gone onto a new and different life, and in thinking longingly of the past, he has been giving thought and interest to something that no longer really exists.

Page Number: 250
Explanation and Analysis:
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Mameh / Hudis Shilsky Character Timeline in The Color of Water

The timeline below shows where the character Mameh / Hudis Shilsky appears in The Color of Water. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1: Dad
Family Theme Icon
...rabbi. He was Russian but moved to Poland for his arranged marriage with Ruth’s mother Hudis, called Mameh. While Tateh was cold, controlling, and commanding, Mameh was “gentle and meek.” She... (full context)
Chapter 3: Kosher
Otherness and Belonging Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Ruth, narrating again, describes Tateh and Mameh’s loveless arranged marriage. Mameh’s family was upper class and wealthy, and was able to sponsor... (full context)
Chapter 5: The Old Testament
Otherness and Belonging Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Religion Theme Icon
...from town to town as Tateh has difficulty getting his contracts renewed, and even though Mameh hopes she can stay near her family in New York City, in 1929 they ultimately... (full context)
Family Theme Icon
...general store makes Ruth’s family richer, but not happier. Her parents don’t get along. Although Mameh is a devoted wife, a talented cook, and an observant Jew, Tateh does not love... (full context)
Chapter 7: Sam
Family Theme Icon
...in her family’s store, sailors come in and try to flirt with her and Dee-Dee. Mameh doesn’t approve, and tells Ruth, in Yiddish, to make the sailors leave. (full context)
Otherness and Belonging Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
...him smiling once, at his bar mitzvah, and she knows he was only happy because Mameh was happy to see him become a man. At fifteen Sam runs away to Chicago,... (full context)
Chapter 11: Boys
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Otherness and Belonging Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Religion Theme Icon
...the alley behind the family store where Ruth and Peter would meet and talk. Somehow Mameh pieces together that Ruth and Peter are dating, and that Ruth is pregnant, and suggests... (full context)
Chapter 13: New York
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Somehow, Mameh knows that Ruth is pregnant. Though a quiet woman, Mameh is very perceptive. For many... (full context)
Chapter 15: Graduation
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Otherness and Belonging Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Memory and Identity Theme Icon
...once she graduates high school she’s leaving Suffolk forever. Her only reservation is leaving behind Mameh, who still cannot speak English and relies on Ruth to navigate the world. Still, Ruth... (full context)
Family Theme Icon
Religion Theme Icon
...Tateh at first refuses to give her the money for her cap and gown, but Mameh convinces him, and he pays on the condition that Ruth not go into the church.... (full context)
Chapter 19: The Promise
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...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... (full context)
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Although Mameh is a devoted wife, Tateh begins to cheat on her with a white Christian woman... (full context)
Chapter 21: A Bird Who Flies
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...Ruth remains in Suffolk a while longer, but eventually she knows it’s time to leave. Mameh asks her to stay, but Ruth knows she can’t have a good life there. (full context)
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...to the nearby town of Norfolk and go to college. Eventually he tries to use Mameh against her, saying Mameh needs Ruth, which Ruth sees as unfair, since Tateh divorced Mameh... (full context)
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...has hired a detective to look for Ruth. Not long after that, Dennis overhears that Mameh is sick and has been brought to New York for treatment. Ruth calls Aunt Mary... (full context)
Religion Theme Icon
...What helps her is Dennis and his talk of God, and God’s forgiveness. Ruth believes Mameh “deserved better” from her, and this guilt helps motivate her to go to church. Listening... (full context)
Otherness and Belonging Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Memory and Identity Theme Icon
Religion Theme Icon
...by killing the chicken they were showing their gratitude to God for letting them live. Mameh makes a distinction between chickens and birds who fly, explaining that “A bird who flies... (full context)
Chapter 22: A Jew Discovered
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...has recovered his uncle Sam’s death records, as well as the graveyard where his grandmother, Mameh, is buried. He’s discovered that Dee-Dee dropped out of high school right before Mameh died,... (full context)
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Otherness and Belonging Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Memory and Identity Theme Icon
Religion Theme Icon
...as a good teacher, but a corrupt man who didn’t live up to his potential. Mameh, in contrast, he called a “fine lady.” Rubenstein recorded a message for Ruth on James’s... (full context)
Otherness and Belonging Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Memory and Identity Theme Icon
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Back in 1992, James wanders around Suffolk. He imagines how his grandmother (Mameh) must have felt—isolated and lonely, in a loveless marriage far from her family. In this... (full context)