Caleb’s Crossing as Threshold to American Literature

Geraldine Brooks’ Caleb’s Crossing will help our introduction to American literature. While there are many voice and location to begin an American literature course, this historical novel may help us appreciate the colonial invasion from the Native American point of view as the Wompanag tribe has been living as a community for thousands of years on the island of Noepe, what later became knows as Martha’s Vineyard.

This novel opens up the North American land story by helping us understand how Native Americans viewed the land and lived with the other species on the land. Reflect on scenes where Caleb show Bethia how to plant crops in the three sisters manner, rather than ripping open the land. Note how Native American thought that oxen and horses ruined clam beds and other parts of the natural world. Contrast this point of view to how the colonists are “developing” the land the way they see fit for prospering. What are the two ideologies regarding the relationship each culture? We can also appreciate how most of the novel occurs right before the King Phillips War; it also provides an visceral chapter of how the Native American were on a long train of disposition of their lands by disease.

Bethia’s grandfather also wanted independence (part of our cultural DNA) and chose to live on the island to get away from the strict and severe rule of the Massachusetts Bay Company, governed by Jonathan Winthrop at the time. In the opening of this interview with Leonard Lopate, Geraldine Brooks compares Winthrop’s ruling style to the Taliban:

The novel will also help us appreciate the historical background to our major work of the term, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlett Letter.

We’ll explore the colonial experience from the point of view of a young girl. In the worlds of books, Bethia echoes other great young, curious girls such as Jane Eyre.


About Bill Sullivan

I am an English teacher working with great students at Suffield Academy. I also teach seniors in various project-based learning environments. Some of the #PBL topics included global issues, such as Pandemics, Climate Change, and Water; more recently I have asked students to research and identify topics important to our school community and their generation. We curate these topics with a #StudentCenteredPBL. For the past eleven years, I also created a driving question for a class to research a local history mystery and present their findings in a community program partnering with our local historical society. These topics encompass researching the lives of enslaved individuals who were contributors to the foundation of our community.
This entry was posted in American Literary Studies, Becoming an American Literary Critic, Colonial Literature, English III. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Caleb’s Crossing as Threshold to American Literature

  1. 18asblog says:

    I have lived with men my whole life and I have seen firsthand how masculinity can take over their emotions and actions. “Tribe” by Sebastian Junger showcases how men are continuously concerned with the idea of war. The chapter, War Makes You An Animal, demonstrates how gender equality is not palpable and how men have a difficult time portraying their true emotions. From a young age men have not been able to be gentle due to stereotypes and prejudices; “I played war when I was young, and like a lot of men I retained an intense and abiding curiosity about it,” (Junger 35). I agree with Juger about how men are very masculine. However, I do not agree with Junger when he reveals that all men should comply with the cliché.

  2. Charlie Park says:

    The book “Tribe” by Sebastian Junger simply gives you a theme of a man’s life. However, this man’s life is not a nice paved road. As you grow up and are thrown out into the society, there are a lot of impediments like hatred and having to hide emotions. One thing that I might recommend since I have not lived or experienced much like Junger, it would be that even if life does not go the way we think, at least it is not the worst. When we think that everything is bad it will continue to be negative but if we try to think it more positive, it would start to seem better.

  3. Pingback: Let’s Use PBS Documentary to Guide Colonial Literature | Mr. Sullivan's Digital Classroom

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