Religion is one of the many aspects that make up a person’s identity. Religion plays a major role in the search for identity of Ruth McBride, in James McBride’s The Color of Water, and Elie Wiesel, in his memoir, Night. Elie is tortured an dehumanized in concentration camps because he’s a Jew. He was seen as inferior because of his religion. Ruth was restricted from doing what her heart truly believed in because she was controlled by her Jewish faith. Her father represented the constraint of Judaism because he was a rabbi.
Both stories prove religion can have a hindering effect on a person’s search for identity. Elie’s identity was changed greatly due to the effects of Judaism and the Holocaust. His identity was changed because he’d lost his innocence. “The student of Talmud the child I was, had been consumed by the flames. All that was left was a shape that resembled me. My soul had been invaded – and devoured – by a black flame”, is Elie’s way of explaining that he’s no longer a child and had lost his faith in god’s justice (Wiesel, 37). He felt as though he was no longer a child or a student, he was a prisoner like any Jew.
It made him angry to see what was happening to all the people in the camps. Elie began to question God and asked,“Why should I sanctify His name? The Almighty, the eternal and terrible Master of the Universe, chose to be silent. What was there to thank Him for? ” as he was entering Birkenau (Wiesel, 33). From this point on, Elie began to lose his unconditional devotion to God. Although he lost his faith, he continued to pray for strength to stay by his father’s side to support him because he was the most important person in his life.
He said,”in spite of myself, a prayer formed inside me, a prayer to this God in whom I no longer believed” because he was praying for a way to preserve his humanity in a prison where every man would fend for themselves (Wiesel, 91). Judaism affected Ruth McBride deeply in various ways. She felt very restricted growing up in a Jewish Orthodox family and she complained that, ”there were too many rules to follow, too many forbiddens and ‘you can’ts’ and ‘you mustn’ts’” (McBride, 2). Her father was a very unloving person who would mistreat Ruth and her mother by doing things such as threatening to send Ruth back to Europe.
He would also sexually abuse Ruth without her mother knowing. He would threaten her and she wasn’t allowed to tell anyone. She was “afraid of Tateh and had no love for him at all” (McBride, 42). Ruth tried to stay strong for her mother who was sick with polio, so she hid everything she was feeling. She was the type of person to always be running away and she had very low self esteem, which most likely came as a habit from her childhood. Her son James said that she had a bicycle and she would just ride around all the time and he “always thought mother was strange.
She never cared to socialize with our always thought [his] mother was strange. She never cared to socialize with our neighbors” (McBride, 9). The bicycle symbolized her constant need for movement in order to deal with her stress and depression. If her life had been different, maybe she would’ve been able to find her true identity instead of being molded by fear and humiliation. Even though both Elie and Ruth weren’t able to be who they wanted to be because of their religion, both characters put family before themselves.
Ruth always cared about her family, but her son would “starve for love and affection [but] didn’t get [any] of that” (McBride, 83). She didn’t show her children any love because that’s not how she was raised. Ruth would descibe herself as a “running-type person” (McBride, 42). Elie loved his father and wanted to take care of him even though his father wanted otherwise. When Elie wanted to watch over his father while they were freezing in a shed, his father said, “‘Don’t worry son. Go to sleep. I’ll watch over you’” and when Elie said otherwise, his father refused to take no for an answer (Wiesel, 89).
Elie Wiesel and Ruth McBride both had their identity effected by religion. In Elie Wiesel’s memoir, Night, he explained that he lost his faith because of all the killings and injustices done to his fellow Jews. He was prosecuted for being a Jew and was dehumanized. In The Color of Water by James McBride, Ruth Jordan describes the hardships that Judaism meant for her. It stood for her father and all the unreasonable rules she had to follow throughout the course of her childhood. Religion hindered both Ruth and Elie as they grew, but it formed the strong people they became as adults.
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