Calvinism in Caleb's Crossing

BlogHer Review

Pulitzer Prize winning author Geraldine Brooks' book, Caleb's Crossing takes place in the 1660's and follows a young man's journey from his Wampanoag tribe on a New England island to Harvard College, where he became the first Native American to graduate.

I expected this book to be the story of a Native American young man who became assimilated into Puritan culture and educated in a classical system. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised to read the (sometimes painfully) honest story of Bethia, a bright young woman raised in strict Calvinism and very much confined by the gender roles of her day.

For some reason, I've always been fascinated by the Calvinist point of view of life. As a mother of six, I often find that the materials out there for large families are written from a Calvinist point of view. And I went to small Presbyterian college where I ran into several professors with strict Calvinist viewpoints. It was very interesting for this Catholic girl to read about the Calvinist roots in American Puritanism.

Despite the title, Caleb's story interested me very little. Indeed, it was Bethia's Crossing, her growing and changing and coming to accept her lot in life on her own terms, that was compelling to me. As she encounters loss after loss and disappointment after disappointment, she is still able to make the best of her circumstances and carve out an acceptable life for herself despite the strict patriarchal order of her day. My heart broke for her as she was let down time and time again, and I rejoiced when she was able to manipulate her situation to create a life that was on her own terms.

I loved the insights into Puritan society and Wampanoag culture. I especially enjoyed the depiction of the tension between Bethia's minister father, seeking to convert the Native Americans, and the tribe's own religious beliefs, including the anger of the shaman as his people begin to convert to Christianity.

As a mama to new twins, I don't get to engage in many intellectual pursuits lately. Reading this book was very enjoyable to me. Not only was it a great story, but I also was able to stretch my brain a bit and learn some history along the way.

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