Geraldine Brooks

Caleb’s Crossing

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Caleb’s Crossing Summary and Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature.  This 30-page guide for “Caleb’s Crossing” by Geraldine Brooks includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 3 parts, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 10 important quotes,discussion questions, and key themes like Listening and Names.

Plot Summary

This is the story of Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck, the first Native American to graduate from Harvard University. It is told in the form of a bildungsroman (or a coming-of-age story) through the perspective of Bethia Mayfield, a minister’s daughter. Bethia is the daughter of two English settlers in what is now Martha’s Vineyard. They have come from England along with other Puritans to escape religious persecution. Bethia, somewhat disobedient of the rigidly constrained gender roles of her settlement, roams alone in the nearby reaches of the island. There she encounters Caleb, although his name is still Cheeshahteaumuck. They exchange knowledge, and even give one another names: she calls him Caleb, one of the followers of Moses; and he calls her Storm Eyes, for the light in her eyes.

Caleb eventually converts to Christianity due to his father’s wishes and actually comes to live in Bethia’s home to study under her father. There he studies alongside Bethia’s brother, Makepeace, and another Indian student, Joel. Bethia, meanwhile, is denied a formal education and assigned laborious domestic duties. Though difficult, this situation is meaningful because it leads to a clear outcome. Unfortunately, Bethia’s father dies during a sea voyage, leaving his children without sufficient resources. Bethia becomes indentured to Makepeace’s new tutor in Cambridge and her only consolation is that Caleb and Joel attend the same school.

This novel is told in a series of informal journal entries. In other words, Bethia is only writing at certain pivotal moments in her life. This form of narrative allows a clear narrative of Caleb’s life without the reader becoming burdened down in every aspect of his entire life. The telling of the story through Bethia’s perspective adds to this story by introducing gender issues into this story. In a sense, this story is about the similarity between multiple excluded groups during this time, including women, the Native Americans, and even the Puritans themselves.

Though Caleb and Joel thrive at the school and then at Harvard, both die around the time of graduation. Makepeace, a lackluster scholar, finds meaning in life. Bethia marries a scholar, Samuel Corlett, and ultimately lives a satisfactory domestic life in the proximity of America’s center of learning.

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Part I