The Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks

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The Caleb’s crossing novel is a book that was written by Geraldine Brooks giving details of the history of America before the revolution. The book describes the values held by the American society at that time through the use of two main characters which are a young boy and a girl. These two start off as friends and end up becoming lovers. However, their relationship encounters numerous challenges with the greatest one being separation from each other. The young Puritan girl is portrayed to be deeply in love with a native boy, and they start a long term relationship which they vow to protect no matter what happens. The two lovers last for a period of years whereby the book narrates the chronicles and their struggles to retain their individual identities. The narrative also gives an explanation of Christian values held by the society at that time and relationship between sin, salvation, and rebirth (Brooks, 2012 p. 24). The book is generally divided into three segments that describe the situation of Bethia the Puritan girl as she carries on with her life. The novel wastes no time in presenting the effects the English have had upon the Wampanoag. The first agreement between them, allowing for English settlement on the island, brings to light some of the cultural differences and misunderstandings that would plague relations between the groups. My creative response to the narrative is that I support the author’s perception that disparity in religious practices and cultural practices between the puritans and the natives was the main cause of tension and disagreement in the society at that time. The contrast between cultural and religious practices is evident in many scenes throughout the book.

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The first part describes the meeting of Bethia and Caleb whereby they become good friends and Bethia request her parents to let the boy come to live with the family. However, the parents are reluctant to allow that as they believe that the kid has got no strong Christian background. The relationship between the natives and the Puritans is depicted to be filled with conflicts based on religious and cultural identities. Brooks has written the book to depict a world of emotion, struggle, and cultural conflict in which the people in the narrative are caught up between these differences that are based on culture.

The beginning scene in the narrative plays a fundamental role in portraying the creative response presented in this paper. This is depicted through Bethia who stays awake listening to her father who a preacher is arguing with her brother about a boy that they wanted to bring to the family. Bethia’s’ brother Makepeace argues that the boy has a little difference with a pagan and therefore should not be allowed into the family (Nehls & Lourdes, 2012 p.13). His father, however, has a different opinion and thinks that the boy could be taught about Christianity and transform to become a Christian. This argument scene shows the strong Christian values that the Puritans had at the time. The contrast of religious practices is depicted in the scene whereby the two parties decide whether the boy should be brought into the family based on his Christian faith. The author, in this case, does not focus on the other many differences that the boy would have, but only chooses to show emphasis on the issue of religion (Brooks, 2012 p. 38). Notably, religion was one of the primary factors that brought differences between the Puritans and the natives. The Puritans had a strong belief in Christianity and discouraged interaction with the natives to avoid erosion of both their cultural and religious values. The book also expounds on the tension that existed between the whites and the natives at that moment. Notably, this tension originated from the difference in practices and religious beliefs. This tension also existed in Bethia’s family after Caleb the boy originating from the natives was brought in the family. The family believed that the boy was quite different from them and would take them time before they convert him to Christianity (Bound, 2012 p. 136). Caleb and his friend give in to the pressure and are determined to learn Christianity and convert to the Christian religion thus suppressing their native identities though it resurfaces occasionally. The two friends do this in order to fit in the whites society as the society would not treat them well if they realized that they were natives.

Bethia’s family faces numerous losses which make the life for her Makepeace, Caleb, and Joel quite hard. Caleb and Joel to change their identities and personality though their native culture still resurfaces. The whites at that time were determined to convert the natives to Christianity, and any natives who refused to convert were perceived as hostile (Mulrine, 2008 p.41). Living in the society of whites as a native was not easy especially for a person who could not suppress their native character traits. Bethia gets involved with a son of the headmaster and at the same time, another girl named Anne comes to study. The girl is impregnated by a white man of considerable economic and social class. When she suffers a miscarriage, Bethia is quick to handle the situation and prevent the news from spreading to the rest of the society (Brooks, 2012 p. 79). The girls did not want the story to spread due to the tension that existed between the two groups involved and if the society knew that the girl had been impregnated by a white man that would have fueled enmity and conflict.

Caleb and Joel were studying about Christianity and the white culture in schools that were entirely run by the white people. Bethia believed that the studies transcended racially-defined judgments and negative attitudes imposed upon the two friends by their teachers and their fellow students, raising them to the top of the class. The issue of violence and conflict emerges again as Caleb and Joel are about to graduate (Oladipo, 2003 p.325). Some natives come forward and murder Joel as a way to show resentment of white invasion on their territory as well as the religious influence that they had caused in their society. The natives were not happy with the spread of white ideologies as they believed it eroded their cultural and religious practices. The difference in culture and religion sparks a heated conflict between the natives and the white.

The novel presents the theme of culture and religion through a contrast of the practices of the Wampanoag native society and the white society. The Wampanoag is present as a natural, organic, relaxed and harmonious society which has much respect for their neighbors. However, the author presents the whites negatively by portraying them as demanding, influential, invasive and restricting (Brooks, 2012 p. 113). This is rooted from their intentions to influence their culture and Christianity to the natives. This sometimes was done through forceful ways that led to the development of hate and resentment between the two societies. The theme of cultural and religious contrast appears subtly throughout the novel and is evidently the main cause of tension and conflict between the two societies represented.

Christianity is presented as a good religion which views the natives with a lot of positivity which is shown by various characters in the novel. For instance, John Mayfield and his ministry are heartfelt and genuine everything, and that earns him trust from the immediate society. However, the colonialists who also happen to hold Christian faith are harsh and view the natives with a lot of negativity. Martha’s Vineyard was settled by Bethia’s grandfather as an attempt to escape the harsh, nearly despotic rule of the colonial mainland, where people had been tortured in the past with some having their ears and nose chopped off. A native woman who was pregnant was cast off to the wilderness with her children by the white colonizers which worsened their relationships with the natives (Brooks, 2012 p. 8). As these punishments were meted out by the colonial Governor to his “Christian brothers,” a dark picture of the organized faith of the time emerges. Though not negative throughout, the church of the time has an edge to it that may be disturbing to modern readers. This shows how the disparity in religious faith between the natives and the whites was a primary cause of conflict.

This would remain a considerable source of tension between the two communities, helping to spark the native uprising that takes place toward the end of the novel. An Englishmen describes the complaints of a band of marauders in much the same terms which show their opinion regarding the natives. Some are heard referring to them as wicked trouble makers when they complained about their hunting and grazing land that had been taken by the whites (Brooks, 2012 p. 280). The whites had coerced the natives to sign an agreement that gave them possession of their land. The natives claimed that did not understand the terms of the agreement and therefore the whites used that to trick them into depriving them their land and property. The differences in ideologies between these two societies kept on recurring and at times resulted in violence. The Native Americans involved the claim that they did not understand the agreement. This clash over

Generally, the cultural and religious values of the European settlers and the Puritans were very different though they all were believed to be Christians. The natives on the other side based their religion on their culture which focused on traditional approaches to worship. Access to resources was also granted based on the ethnic background of a person as well as their religion. Caleb was a native boy who had no chance to access education (Deidre, 2007). However, after he was taken in by the Puritan family, he could now attend school and focus on learning Christianity as well as other cultures of the Puritan society.

Bethia Mayfield who is the daughter of Mayfield a local minister of Christianity manages to interact with people from both sided of the ethnic divide. Being a Puritan, she is expected to set a good example for the rest of the Puritan girls. She manages to strike a perfect balance between the love she has for her culture and friendship with people from different of ethnic backgrounds (Caleb’s crossing, 2011 p.47). This enables her to get along with different people who increase her understanding of cultural diversity. Despite being a Puritan, the young girl has a growing curiosity and interest in the cultural practices of the Wampanoag tribe that populates the island. The young girl meets Caleb a young Puritan boy, and from their friendship, she is able to note the numerous cultural and religious differences that the Puritan had from the natives.

Bethia’s exposure to the culture and the religion of the natives gets her torn between her Puritan Faith. Though she seems to be committed to Christianity; she is still affected by the influence of her native friends.  The major differences occurring between the culture of Bethia and her friends keep on bringing differences. For instance, Bethia thinks that Caleb and Joel are taught a lot of negative stuff in their Christianity classes. When she meets Caleb, Bethia escapes from the stern and pious community in which women were not empowered and were expected to remain silent and submissive. Bethia is denied education simply because the culture of the community that denies women from venturing in such issues (Brooks, 2012 p. 224). The differences with Caleb, however, inspires her and he struggles to understand her dogged sense of duty and deference. Even as he chooses to adopt her religion, he encourages her to rebel and questions the obedience at the root of her faith. This again depicts the resistance and rebellion that characterizes the relationship between the natives and the Puritans.

The relationship between Bethia and Caleb at first causes a lot of tension in her family where they are not sure whether it would be right to bring the native boy into the family. That shows the level of suspicion and mistrust that the two societies had. The colonial whites on the other side claimed to spread Christianity but engaged in methods that promoted tension and conflict within the society. Caleb rises to defy the odds of their culture and becomes the first native boy to graduate while Bethia becomes a house help as the culture of the Puritans did not allow girls to venture into education. Berthia is not pleased with what her society expects from her as she too wanted to get educated and experience the interaction with people from different cultures.

The book describes the values held by the American society at that time through the use of two main characters which are a young boy and a girl. These two start off as friends and end up becoming lovers. However, their relationship encounters numerous challenges with the greatest one being separation from each other. The young Puritan girl is portrayed to be deeply in love with a native boy, and they start a long term relationship which they vow to protect no matter what happens. The creative response that disparity in religious practices and cultural practices between the Puritans and the natives were the main cause of tension and disagreement in the society at that time is evident in many scenes throughout the narrative.

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The Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks. (2019, Oct 10). Retrieved October 1, 2022 , from

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