Learning to be comfortable in one’s skin can be difficult. This is shown in “The Girl Who Fell From the Sky” by Heidi Durrow in which a young girl named Rachel is sent to live with her grandmother in Oregon after recovering and is the only survivor in a devastating accident where she and her mother, brother, and sister jump off of an apartment building in Chicago. Rachel is biracial due to the fact that her mother, Nella, is white and her absentee father, Roger, is black. Because of this, Rachel is continually judged and discriminated for being light-skinned and this causes her to give up on trying to fit in with the students that she goes to school with. In “The Color of Water” by James McBride, the main character who is also the author describes his life as a black man and recounts his mother, Ruth’s, life as a white, Jewish woman who marries a black man and has 12 kids that she eventually has to raise on her own. Ruth went through many hardships in her life including being sexually abused by her father and being disowned by her family for choosing to marry and have kids with a black man. Rachel and Ruth are both traumatized due to the stressful events that they went through and it is clear that their struggles as women living in times where they didn’t have as many rights as we do now are portrayed quite well in each novel.
The feminist theory can be explained as seeking to understand both the literary portrayals and representation of both women and people in the queer community. Three primary forms of feminism include Liberal feminism, which is the belief that individuals should be free to do what they want, Socialist feminism which explains how there is a connection between the patriarchy and capitalism and adopts some tenets from Marxism. The last primary form of feminism is Radical feminism. It focuses on the idea that the main cause of women’s oppression originates from social roles and institutional structures being constructed from male supremacy and patriarchy. The universal idea of feminism refers to the belief that men and women deserve equality in all opportunities, treatment, respect, and social rights and in both “The Girl Who Fell From The Sky” and “The Color of Water”, the women in these books have different beliefs and each just wanted to be accepted and treated with respect.
In “The Girl Who Fell From The Sky”, the main character Rachel encounters sexism numerous times throughout her life because of how her grandmother chooses to raise her. Her grandmother is a strict religious woman who wanted her granddaughter to conform to what she thought a woman should be instead of letting Rachel be her own person. Her grandmother says to her aunt Loretta “How you gonna catch a lizard with your backside loading you down?” (Durrow 8) as they’re eating pancakes and Rachel understands that her grandma means husband when she says lizards. Because of these kinds of remarks and because of her not grasping the concept of race as a child, Rachel grows up not understanding who she is and has mixed messages about who she is.
The feminist theory can be applied to Rachel’s experiences because she had three main female role-models in her life; her grandmother, her aunt Loretta, and her mother. Each of these women were very different in their own ways. Her grandmother was an old-fashioned woman who was strict and wanted Rachel to find a good man to marry and get a job as a secretary. Her aunt Loretta was the complete opposite of Rachel’s grandmother in terms of personality. She was smart, a tennis player, and is considered pretty. She wanted Rachel to get an education and wanted her to accomplish as much as possible.
I can personally relate to how Rachel felt when her grandmother wanted her to conform instead of expanding her horizons and becoming who she wants to be because my mother is similar to her grandmother. I was raised in a way in which my mom wanted me to conform to be a person who would grow up to be a housewife and mother without realizing she was instilling sexist ideas in me which confused me as a child and as a teenager. There are multiple elements in this novel that not only discuss race and identity but talk about expectations that Rachel has to deal with from everyone due to the fact that she is biracial. “I want to be a good student. I know how to do that. I think being a good student will help me in the long run. I think of the long run, the way that Aunt Loretta says it.” (Durrow 68), Rachel explains and throughout the book she tries to live up to the standards of her grandmother and tries to be smart like her aunt Loretta whom she looks up to.
Ruth is quite different from Rachel since she is a white, Jewish woman who is rejected by her family because of who she chooses to marry and how she lives her life. She still endured similar experiences to Rachel because she also grew up in a strict household and was faced with obstacles that many women in their time had to go through on a daily basis. When describing his mother, James explains “But she had left her past so far behind that she literally did to know how to drive. Rachel Deborah Shilsky could drive a car and pull a trailer behind it, but Ruth McBride Jordan had never touched a steering wheel before that day in 1973, and you can make book on it” which I find important because Ruth had been through so much that she had to re-learn how to drive because her past was too hard for her to deal with. She was overworked at her father’s shop, had very different beliefs than her family and society, and was sexually abused by her father as a young girl, lost her first and second husband due to illness, yet she remained true to herself and is a great portrayal of a strong woman. James McBride writes about his and his mother’s lives and about his confusion about race and interviews his mother about everything that happened in her life. He explains the difficulties his mother suffered but also talks about how she also found love, found religion, and raised 12 children after everything she had been through.
In both books there is a theme of self-motivation and self-reliance. For example in “The Color of Water” Ruth conveys to her children the importance of self- sufficiency and makes sure they each get the best education possible while in “The Girl Who Fell From The Sky”, Rachel learns how to fit in the world being a biracial woman and doesn’t know whether she should lean more towards black or white culture. The way Rachel deals with her emotions due to her confusion about her identity is demonstrated when she says “When something starts to feel like hurt, I put it in this imaginary bottle inside me. It’s blue glass with a cork stopper. My stomach tightens and my eyeballs get hot. I put all of that inside the bottle.”
These two books are similar due to the fact that the main characters of each story are biracial and experience confusion and anger because of it. They each go on their own journeys in finding out who they are and finally accepting themselves even though they are constantly criticized because of the color of their skin. Although these books are similar, they have some differences as well. The way Rachel and James were raised is quite different since Rachel went through a very traumatizing childhood after she and her mother and her siblings jumped off of the roof of their apartment building in Chicago. James, unlike Rachel, had many siblings and went through loss as well but in a different manner. His father had died and so had his stepfather who his family and him were quite fond of.
Throughout both stories they have similar themes and the feminist theory can be applied to the female characters in each story. Rachel and Ruth both go through troubles that women in their time constantly suffered and each of their personalities were shaped by the traumas and sorrows that they had endured in their childhoods whether it was losing one’s family or being sexually assaulted. The theme of identity is prominent because both Rachel and James learn to accept themselves and their identities after all the struggles they had went through. Rachel eventually finds herself by connecting with friends, going through stressful experiences, and grows as a person altogether. Understanding and learning about the feminist theory helped me comprehend what Rachel and Ruth felt and know why their stories are important. Overall, both “The Girl Who Fell From The Sky” and “The Color of Water” discuss significant themes such as dealing with dual identities, feminism, and learning to accept oneself opposed to conforming and being someone that you aren’t.