Ruth McBride-Jordan in The Color of Water vs Love Medicine's Marie-Lazarre-Kashpaw

Ruth McBride-Jordan in The Color of Water vs Love Medicine's Marie-Lazarre-Kashpaw

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In life, we face and overcome many challenges and struggles that help to define and build who we are. According to Orrison Swett Mardon, "Most of our obstacles would melt away if, instead of cowering before them, we should make up our minds to walk boldly through them." Ruth, Jade, and Marie do exactly that. Ruth McBride-Jordan in The Color of Water is a Jewish immigrant in America who desperately struggles to search for her identity in a time of great prejudices. Breaking free from her abusive father and religious intolerance, Ruth undergoes trials and changes that create the extraordinary life she leads. Love Medicine's Marie-Lazarre-Kashpaw experience's a difficult life full of responsibilities, but despite the destruction around her, she manages to keep her head up high. In The Fifth Chinese Daughter, Jade Snow Wong is a young woman trapped between her traditional Chinese teachings and the American beliefs. Jade's longing for independence and knowledge pushes her to defy the odds against her. These spectacular women from different backgrounds, despite their many differences, share similar struggles. Ruth McBride-Jordan, Jade Snow Wong and Marie Lazarre-Kashpaw each come to a crossroad of difficult decisions as they face troubles with their family, and lose a loved one, in order to grow into the strong, independent women they are.
Each of the characters comes across a point of darkness in their lives, forcing them to make a difficult decision. After leaving her home in the South, Ruth tries to make it on her own by working in Harlem and meets Rocky, who, unbeknownst to her, is a pimp. When she finally does realize this, she gets lost in the night life in an attempt to forget her past, and almost ruins her future. Ruth even says, "...a prostitute, which I almost did become." (McBride, Pg.172) She gets past this when she fesses up to Dennis McBride, and realizes her error when she sees how disappointed he is. Ruth then returns home to Bubeh, her grandmother living in New York, and gets a decent job at a diner. Jade Snow comes across a similar, yet different problem when she is unable to acquire the scholarship for a university. She starts to consider not going to college at all if she can't go to a university until her friend, Joe, says to her, "…makes you so sure that junior college won't teach you anything.

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..Once you stop school, it's hard to go back." (Wong, Pg. 119) After her conversation with Joe, Jade Snow goes to a junior college which becomes the foundation of new following successes. Both Jade and Ruth face their crisis when they attempt to break away from their families, but Marie's predicament is the exact opposite. When she finds out, through a letter, that her husband and the man she loves, Nector Kashpaw, is cheating on her with another woman, she is torn. Her desire to keep her family together puts her in a difficult place. In the end, Marie chooses to leave him in question by switching the sugar shaker with the salt shaker that Nector places on top of the letter. She describes her thoughts on her choice of action as, "…what this Marie who was interested in holding onto Nector should do…I did what I never would expect of myself. I lifted the sugar jar and put the letter back. Then I thought. I put the sugar down and picked up the can of salt. This was much more something I would predict of Marie."(Erdrich-Pg.165) Ruth, Jade and Marie make it through their darkness and in turn, grow emotionally stronger by analyzing their situation and coming to terms with what they really want for themselves.
Socialization happens within the family structure, which determines the basis of a person's character. Family structure is not perfect, and with these imperfections come problems that result in self-growth. Growing up, Ruth is molested by her hypocritical rabbi father and forced to take care of her handicapped mother, a sister and the family's convenient store. As she gets older, she severs her ties with her family, mainly because, as Ruth puts it, "I've been dead to them for fifty years... They want no parts of me, and I don't want no parts of them." (McBride, Pg.1). This arrangement, perhaps, works out for the better, when Ruth converts to Christianity, marries, has children and is happier than she would have been had she stayed with her family. She explains her thoughts on her transition by stating, "Rachel Shilsky is dead as far as I'm concerned. She had to die in order for me, the rest of me, to live." (McBride, Pg.2) Like Ruth, Marie also grows up in an extremely dysfunctional family. Marie is from the Lazarre family who are characterized as irresponsible, filthy, drunk thieves. She describes her mother as, "…the old drunk woman who I didn't claim as my mother anymore." (Erdrich, Pg.85) Marie deals with her family by ignoring them instead of dealing with the problem head on. This choice affects her own ability to hold a family together when she is unable to keep her family together. Jade encounters a different family difficulty than those of Ruth and Marie. Her family isn't perfect, but is still functional. Problems arise when her new American influences clashes with her traditional Chinese teachings. When attending junior college, Jade learns about individuality in her sociology class and plans to tell her father about these new ideas. She struggles to find the right opportunity to tell him and when she does, she tells her father, "'…You should understand me…I am now an individual besides your fifth daughter.'"(Wong, Pg. 128) Her father's first reaction is fury, but this argument later pays off when Jade Snow's father shakes her hand, a symbol that he respects her for her achievements. Whether or not the characters completely overcome these family struggles, it is something they all confront and handle the way they see fit.
With family struggles also comes the loss of loved ones. Ruth loses both of her two husbands, both whom she loves dearly. However, the death of her first husband, Dennis McBride has a greater impact on Ruth. When Dennis got sick, he is put in a hospital, but the doctor's and nurses wouldn't tell Ruth about Dennis' condition until he dies. Ruth takes Dennis' death extremely hard stating, "Part of me died when Dennis died. I loved that man more than life itself…" (McBride, Pg. 244) Though she is still grieving, she has her children to comfort her and help her through her pain. Ruth's mourning comes to something of an end when she remarries Hunter Jordan, who promises that he will take care of her and her family until the day he dies. Jade also loses a loved one that she holds dear in her heart to the angel of death. Her grandmother has always been the one to defend her when growing up, so when she dies, Jade takes it pretty hard. When Jade visits her grandmother in the hospital, her grandmother says to her, "'… remember your grandmother with this precept...Remember, those who do not try are left behind.'"(Wong, Pg36) These words become what drives her to truly succeed and make a difference. Unlike Ruth and Jade, Marie does not lose a loved one to death. June was her sister's daughter until Marie adopts her and despite how much Marie wants to understand June, she can't. So, she enlists help from her brother-in-law, Eli Kashpaw and as June spends time with Eli, she starts to drift from Marie, until she finally tells Marie that she wants to live with Eli. June leaves behind her beads, which Marie admits, "I don't pray, but sometimes I do touch the beads. (Erdrich, Pg. 96)" in hopes that June will come back. When June left Marie's household, Marie feels emptiness, a loss, which she tries to fill by touching the beads and taking in children. Losing someone doesn't exactly mean the person has passed away, it can run much deeper than that.
Ruth McBride-Jordan, Marie Lazarre-Kashpaw, and Jade Snow Wong are all incredible women who rise to the challenge in times difficulties, endures the issues concerning their family and faces the pain of losing a cherished person in their lives. These women appear to have nothing in common, but when closely observed, it is apparent that they each share similar problems. In fact, the struggles these women face are not limited to race, gender, religion, social class or lifestyle. Like Ruth, Jade and Marie, humans strive to seek independence, a sense of self and accomplishment. Challenges like, making tough decisions, hard family times and losing a loved one are all part of human life. Society is so insistent on finding the differences between everyone, that the similarities are often ignored. If the world can just see this, there might not be so much suffering and prejudice in the world.
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