Caleb’s Crossing Part I Summary & Analysis

Geraldine Brooks

Caleb’s Crossing

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Caleb’s Crossing Part I Summary & Analysis

Part I: “Anno 1660 Aetatis Suae 15 Great Harbor”

Chapter I Summary

Chapter I introduces the narrator, Bethia, and her family, the Mayfields. Bethia’s family at the time of the story’s opening includes her brother, Makepeace, and her father, the minister of this Puritan community on what we today call Martha’s Vineyard (off the coast of Massachusetts). Bethia also has an infant sister, Solace. Her mother is no longer alive, we realize.

At the beginning of the chapter, lying in bed Bethia overhears her father and brother discussing the imminent arrival of Caleb. Makepeace expresses concern that they will be hosting – in the same house as Bethia – a man only very recently “removed from paganism.”

Bethia does not mention anything about this apparently important conversation the next day. She explains to the reader that listening is an important skill of hers, learned from her deceased mother. Bethia’s mother virtually never spoke outside of the Mayfield household. Apparently, she had a beautiful voice and loved to sing. However, outside of the family, Bethia’s mother went her way in silence, absorbing information rather than contributing to the spread of gossip. She often picked up important information about the community for her husband.

Bethia carries on this skill of her mother’s. In fact, careful listening alerted her to her own mother’s impending death in childbirth (during the birth of Solace). Bethia explains that she feels that she brought about her mother’s death through sinfulness on her (Bethia’s) part. After Bethia’s mother died, they buried her in nearly frozen ground at the burial site of Bethia’s twin brother, Zuriel (who died at nine) and another deceased infant brother.

The portion of the book that we are reading, Bethia explains, is her attempt at providing a recollection of the misdeeds that preceded God’s vengeance in the form of her mother’s death. Bethia also explains to the reader that she is writing this recollection upon any spare scraps of paper that she manages to salvage. As she closes this chapter, Bethia imagines the struggle of Caleb, whom she envisions as “stretched like the rope in a tug o’ war”…

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Part 2