Jewish and Christian, Essay Example

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Words: 2013

Essay

The Color of Water: A Historical and Cultural Analysis of Judaism and Christianity

 In a society where religion has predominantly been influential it is not surprising that many cultures have been a blind follower, allowing this to manipulate the order of their lives. This paper is designed to critically analyze the historical and the social aspects of how Judaism and Christianity play a crucial role in the life of the main character in James McBride’s novel “The color of water.” Perhaps the best way to understand the story was to get a glimpse of the author’s life and the political and social condition during the time that the story was written. This will give us an idea of what could have transpired the author to be compelled to narrate a very powerful story within the context of religion.

James McBride is a product of a biracial marriage between an African American father and a Polish mother. During the time that McBride was born, his siblings along with the other members of their family has already been experiencing discrimination brought about by the strong discrimination between the Blacks and the Jews. This was a difficult stage for the young McBride. However, the author grew to realize that the best way to understand what they were experiencing was to track down his roots. His best solution was dug out his mother’s background. In the beginning, there was very little information available about her and what she had to go through from migrating to the US from Poland. According to Ruth, James’ mother, they came to the US when there widespread poverty and violence directed towards the Blacks and the Jews.

On the other hand, James grew up embracing Christianity because of his parents. Despite having an Orthodox Jewish background, her mother eventually converted to the Christian faith and established a Church with James’ father Dennis. This has kept their family survived the tribulations caused by the injustices in the society. This aspect in the author’s life has been pivotal in the story, thus also making it as a powerful element in the whole story.

The story was the combination of music, religion and social unrest. The large part of the story reflects the life of the author in the experiences of his mother. Basically it was James’s autobiography, but it also paved a tribute to his mother’s courage and determination. The story was predominantly a struggle that the characters all had to go through as part of their growing up. It depicts about how a conservative religion like the Orthodox Jews has strongly plays a domineering factor in the life of Ruth McBride. In addition, it also highlights the personal struggles of the author to understand the cruelty of the society and takes solace in the comforts of music and Christianity.

This paper is written to critically analyze the historical and the social role of religion in influencing a person’s life. This paper would critically evaluate how Judaism and Christianity differ in so many ways and how its perspectives had been pivotal during the period when racial, political and social unrest exists in the society. I would like to establish the compelling reason from which the author draws his conclusions that religion has been a saving grace that helps people face the biggest upsets in their lives especially with case of Christianity as it applies to his personal experiences.

This paper hopes to shed light on the following questions that had been evident in the story. These includes: (1) identifying the difference in the rudimentary principles of Judaism and Christianity, (2) interpret the plot of the story according to the political and social condition of that time and how this can be related to the struggles of a typical family as that of the characters in the story, and finally (3) identify the social changes that transpired after the realities narrated by the story.

Defining Judaism and Christianity in the Context of “The Color of Water”

Originally, Ruth was a practicing Orthodox Jew being forced by her father to embrace such religion. At a tender age, Ruth saw how much her religion affected her life and her family’s life as well. There were perhaps inconsistencies in Ruth’s view of the teachings that her father being a rabbi preaches. For one Ruth’s father showed greed for the material possessions and has a strong determination to come to America and settle there because Poland had been experiencing financial instability during that time. Hence, through a fixed marriage, their family had been able to settle in the land of the greener Pasteur. But fulfilling the American dream was not enough; Ruth experienced seeing his father occasionally beat up her stepmother. She also saw the downfall of her family with her siblings running away and being disowned by the people who were supposed to nurture and takes care of them. This has led Ruth to completely forget about her family and her refusal to confront the issue about them. This has been evident with the tedious experience that James had to go through in seeking for the answers to his questions and reaching the point of understanding where his mother’s repudiation to discuss her past was coming from. It was an awakening on the part of James when he triumphantly reaches the pinnacle of his search of his identity.

On the other hand, eventually Ruth found comfort in a new religion, Christianity. This led her and her husband to establish a Church in their community. It has been Ruth’s saving grace to surpass the trials and hardships in her life. It also eventually helped her to reconcile with her past as she came to terms with forgiveness and acceptance of the things that she could no longer change. It was a moving acceptance when Ruth finally had the courage to go back in the synagogue for James’ friend’s wedding. In her belief, it was religion that helped her heal the wounds caused by her past. It helped her resolved the issues of her past while still embracing the beauty of her choice.

Overall it appears that religion has a significant role in alleviating whatever conflict that a person experiences in their lives. It can also be seen as a factor that deters man to experience liberation, a personal and spiritual freedom. It is a perplexing rationalization that that one’s greatest battle they always finds comfort in relying to the divine order as if it is the final resort (Kennedy, 1996). Consequentially, religion has sometimes also been the reason why a person feels being trapped. On many occasions, religion has been the subject of prejudice and discrimination. This was the similar case with the Nazis’ annihilation of the Jews. On the other hand, without having to gone any farther, the story in itself showed the discrimination of the Jews having to think and consider them as the chosen nation of God. Hence, considering other races as not pure, Ruth’s marriage to her black husband cases her own family to disown them. If one would assert, there is a cosmic cycle in the order of things, what goes around comes around.

Everyone is bonded by their own personal biases and prejudices. Regardless of how one embraces their own religion, the social forces will sometimes be heavier to ignore such as the power of hate and vengeance. Over the course of history we have been witnesses to how religion had predominantly had their own prejudices and biases. There were the executions of the faithful and the practices of different religion in disowning a member as with the case of excommunication.

For the point of argument only on the aspects of Judaism and Christianity, the latter is an offspring of the earlier mentioned religion. Judaism offers a much strict version of the written practice of the sacred scripture. They take the literal interpretation of the bible and account it to be the delivering message of the Supreme Being. In order to be delivered from sin, and to remain pure in the eyes of their Creator, they must fulfill the sacred order. They should not acquaint themselves with those classified as not pure. They had a strong feeling of being a superior race, having been chosen by God according to the sacred scripture.

Over the course of time the same belief warrants the execution of the Jews. The Nazis under the leadership of Adolf Hitler ordered the wiping out of the Jews. This was the largest human execution by race in the history of the world. The Nazis would even be caught making a mockery of the Jews relating how their god has seemingly forsaken his chosen people. The Jews have felt the same discrimination and prejudice they cast against the seemingly impure people (O’Hearn, 1998). This had been witnessed by several others.

On the other hand, the period when the story was written was a period of struggle. There was the growing racial discrimination between the blacks and the whites. The Blacks were seen as slave and a lower class not deserving to share equal rights with the whites. On several instances the blacks have experienced social injustices like not being able to vote, hold any public office or even get enlisted to serve the army (Azoulay, 1997). Their job has been limited to manual labor. This was also a period where the Jews can still experience the discrimination brought about by the First World War or the annihilation of the Jews. The Jews were in hiding, out of fear of persecution, humiliation and ridicule. This scenario could lead one to assume that given the circumstances that the characters have in the story, they were at a much disadvantage.

When Ruth marries a black man, this disgraces her family. It brought shame considering that their religious orientation sees the blacks as impure. That was the conflict of her choice with her religion. Eventually, having borne kids in this biracial marriage, their children also suffered a similar fate having a Jewish mother and a Black father (Webb, 2001 and O’Hearn, 1998). Their situation became a double whammy for them. For Ruth, her recourse was to shove her past under a sealed chest hoping it could erase it. For her children, like the case of James, it was more of an inner struggle. He had identity issues that he carries all throughout his life which only been resolved after tracing his mother’s roots and understanding the events that transpired in their lives.

At present, there are still social inequalities and injustices that can be felt. However, these are subtle as compared to the time of James and his mother. Today, although the blacks can still experience some sort of discrimination, there are certainly improvements in the social structure of the society. For one, a black man is sitting in the highest position in the United States government. This is the ultimate testament that there had been significant changes that happened from that period up to the present. The Jews no longer have to go in hiding to practice their religion. We have to realize that there is actually no way to completely eradicate a practice that has existed for a long time. Although it is not impossible, it can take quite some time. Religion has been influential in several accounts. Considering its role in the society, we have to acknowledge that to instigate change. Religion can be a potent tool in helping facilitate the much needed changes and reform in the government and in the society. It may have failed on several accounts because of its own biases but that does not change the fact that is still as widely accepted by everyone.

Reference

Azoulay, Katya Gibel (1997). Black, Jewish and Interracial: It’s Not the Color of Your Skin, but the Race of Your Kin, and Other Myths of Identity. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Kenney, Michael (1996). “Self-Portrait in Black and White.” The Boston Globe, February 21, 1996.

O’Hearn, Claudine C. (1998). Half and Half: Writers on Growing Up Biracial and Bicultural. New York, Pantheon Books.

Webb, Clive (2001). Fight Against Fear: Southern Jews and Black Civil Rights. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press.

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