The Right of Power in Caleb's Crossing
The shackles of womanhood in the late 1600s weigh heavily in Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks. We follow Bethia, our storyteller and main character, on the journey of her life from the tiny Puritan island settlement of Great Harbor to the streets of Cambridge.
She is a strong woman, not always admired in those days, and her troubles often stem from her desire to be heard. As a woman, you can’t help but support Bethia as she tries to do right not only by her family and her culture, but also by her own consciousness.
Our title’s namesake, Caleb, is a native to the island, and his story is inspired by the true tale of the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College. However, to me, Caleb was but a mirror for Bethia: a foil in some respects but not all. Caleb’s movement from his native Wampanoag village to the English world spurs many aspects of Bethia’s life; however, since we hear everything from Bethia, there are some holes to Caleb’s personal and spiritual journey. I found that Caleb’s character stood just out of reach in the story whereas, Bethia’s character was front and center as the narrator.
Religion is a strong theme in the book, and I found the comparisons between Caleb’s native, spiritual religion to Bethia’s hard-and-fast Puritanism very thought provoking. As Caleb learns more of Bethia’s religion, we see her learning more about it as well. She’s forced to answer his questions and to explain some aspects of her beliefs that she cannot. We often see Caleb explaining aspects of Bethia’s own religion to her in the context of his own. Throughout the book, the question of whose religion is closer to the truth lingers, as does the questions as to whose religion brings greater good to the world.
Underlining every character and theme in this book is the right of power. Who has power over whom? What gender has power over the other? Whose religion is most powerful? How is power gained? Is it through religion or education or love? And finally, is power enough?
I found Caleb’s Crossing a thought-provoking tale full of love and tragedy that will lie heavily on your heart and your mind, leaving some questions for you to answer.