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 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.