The Passion for Education in Caleb's Crossing
Bethia Mayfield, the main character of Geraldine Brooks' novel Caleb's Crossing, never gave up her quest to learn despite being born and raised in an era in which women were not formally educated. I love the images Brooks depicts as she describes Bethia straining to listen to the teachings of her father. As her brothers are taught Latin and Greek, Bethia listens in and begins to learn the languages better than her older brother.
When a Native American outcast tries to teach her father English, it is Bethia who secretly listens in and begins to understand the language of the natives. It is this fluency that enables her to speak to Caleb, a Native American, alone on the beach for the very first time.
I love the bond that Bethia and Caleb form as they teach each other the ways of their worlds. Bethia teaching Caleb how to read and write English and Caleb teaching Bethia about the wilderness and the world. They know they should not be alone, talking with one another, yet they continue to teach each other in an innocent and playful way despite the fact that they ultimate end up discussing heavily weighted topics like religion.
While Geraldine Brooks takes the reader on a journey through complex topics of prejudice, cultural differences and religion the concepts of higher education are always at the forefront. While some barriers are broken in this story, like the Harvard education of the first Native Americans, the women in Brook’s story continue to be treated as second-class citizens.
In an effort to provide a better education for her less capable brother, Bethia’s grandfather subjects her to years as an indentured servant. It is clear that as a woman her life is considered less important than her sibling’s. Despite the anger and hatred she could feel towards her family, Bethia wholeheartedly takes on the role of housekeeper. She proceeds through this phase of life truly believing that God has created this path for her and it is through this passage that she continues to seek the education and learning that she yearns for.
My mother taught me to read and write at a very early age and I completely relate to the passion Bethia feels for books and higher learning. As I read this book I could feel Bethia's disappointment when her father refuses to teach her as well as the pride she feels when her father passes away and leaves behind the books she loves. She loves reading so much that she secretly 'borrows' books from her father and takes them out to the beach and shares them with Caleb.
You can feel her excitement as she recites Anne Bradstreet's poetry and dreams of a world in which women can be powerful and educated. It saddens me to think that in some parts of the world women still do not receive the quality education of their male counterparts. I think Geraldine Brooks proves that the soul will continue to seek what it yearns for. In this case Bethia willfully strove for a higher level of education and did whatever was in her means to find ways to secretly receive it.
I really enjoyed reading this book and hope to read more of Geraldine Brooks' novels in the future.