The Color of Water


James McBride

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Ruth’s Bicycle Symbol Analysis

Ruth’s Bicycle Symbol Icon

James sees Ruth’s bicycle as “typif[ing] her whole existence.” Ruth marches to the beat of her own drummer, and doesn’t care what people will think of her — a white middle-aged woman riding a bicycle in a black neighborhood. In most areas of her life, Ruth is an outsider, but acts as though she belongs. In her black neighborhood, she comfortably raises her mixed family, and in her black church, she happily attends every Sunday. As long as they aren’t attacking her or her children, she doesn’t seem to care what people think of her, and her bicycle is an apt representation of this fact.

The bicycle is also a way for Ruth to escape her circumstances. All her life she’s liked to run to clear her head and to escape. As a child she would literally run around Suffolk to temporarily escape Tateh’s abuse, and when she graduated high school she ran away to New York City to try and start a new, free life. After the death of her first husband she was able to keep herself busy enough that she never fully mourned, but after the death of Hunter, she enters a deep depression. Unable to move to a new city or start a new life because of her massive family, getting out of the house and riding her bicycle is as close to running from her sadness as Ruth can get. Riding the bicycle helps her stay in a state of constant motion, which gives her less time to think about her unwelcome emotions.

Ruth’s Bicycle Quotes in The Color of Water

The The Color of Water quotes below all refer to the symbol of Ruth’s Bicycle. 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 2 Quotes

The image of her riding that bicycle typified her whole existence to me. Her oddness, her complete nonawareness of what the world thought of her, a nonchalance in the face of what I perceived to be imminent danger from blacks and whites who disliked her for being a white person in a black world. She saw none of it.

Related Characters: James McBride (speaker), Ruth McBride-Jordan
Related Symbols: Ruth’s Bicycle
Page Number: 7
Explanation and Analysis:
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Ruth’s Bicycle Symbol Timeline in The Color of Water

The timeline below shows where the symbol Ruth’s Bicycle appears in The Color of Water. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2: The Bicycle
Otherness and Belonging Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon fourteen his stepfather Hunter Jordan dies, and his mother (Ruth), unable to drive, starts bicycling around the neighborhood. James misses his stepfather, who he thought of as “Daddy,” and who... (full context)
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Otherness and Belonging Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Memory and Identity Theme Icon
...James is embarrassed to come home and see his middle-aged mother on her old blue bicycle, which he sees as an indication of how different Ruth is from the other mothers... (full context)
Chapter 16: Driving
Family Theme Icon
Memory and Identity Theme Icon her. To keep from losing her mind completely, Ruth remains in motion, riding her bicycle, taking bus rides, and walking around the neighborhood. James explains, “She ran, as she had... (full context)