As a child, James creates an imaginary world for himself. Instead of looking into a mirror and seeing his reflection as himself, he imagines that the boy looking back at him is a happier, freer version of himself. For much of his life James struggles to uncover his unique racial identity, but the boy in the mirror is free from racial confusion. Whereas it take James years to understand who he is and where he has come from, the boy in the mirror “didn’t seem to have an ache. He was free. He was never hungry…and his mother wasn’t white.” The boy in the mirror represents everything James wants to be, and wants to have. The boy in the mirror is the perfect version of himself, free from poverty, free from racism, and free from confusion about his mixed-race heritage. James often mentions an ache in his chest, which is a physical response to his search for meaning and belonging. The boy in the mirror doesn’t have that ache — he represents a version of James who fully understands himself, and fully fits into the world.
The Boy in the Mirror Quotes in The Color of Water
To further escape from painful reality, I created an imaginary world for myself. I believed my true self was a boy who lived in the mirror. I’d lock myself in the bathroom and spend long hours playing with him. He looked just like me. I’d stare at him. Kiss him. Make faces at him and order him around. Unlike my siblings, he had no opinions. He would listen to me. “If I’m here and you’re me, how can you be there at the same time?” I’d ask. He’d shrug and smile. I’d shout at him, abuse him verbally. “Give me an answer!” I’d snarl. I would turn to leave, but when I wheeled around he was always there, waiting for me. I had an ache inside, a longing, but I didn’t know where it came from or why I had it. The boy in the mirror, he didn’t seem to have an ache. He was free. He was never hungry, he had his own bed probably, and his mother wasn’t white. I hated him. “Go away!” I’d shout. “Hurry up! Get on out!” but he’d never leave.