The Color of Water

The Boy in the Mirror Symbol Analysis

The Boy in the Mirror Symbol Icon

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

The The Color of Water quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Boy in the Mirror. 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 10 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: James McBride (speaker), Ruth McBride-Jordan
Related Symbols: The Boy in the Mirror
Page Number: 90
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Boy in the Mirror Symbol Timeline in The Color of Water

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Boy in the Mirror appears in The Color of Water. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 10: School
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Otherness and Belonging Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Memory and Identity Theme Icon
...begins to escape from reality through music, books, and his own imagination. He imagines a boy in the mirror who represents his true, untroubled self. This imaginary James doesn’t have a white mother, and... (full context)
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Otherness and Belonging Theme Icon
Memory and Identity Theme Icon
...entertaining his white classmates he was no closer to fitting in. He thinks of the boy in the mirror , who is free, while he feels trapped. (full context)