Study Guide

Chesapeake

by James Michener

Chesapeake Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of American Literature)

In Chesapeake, another sprawling novel, this one covering four hundred years and four major families, Michener abandoned his usual narrative practice of providing several points of view and used the third-person omniscient point of view. He also shaped his novel by dividing it into fourteen “episodes” with their own chapters. The first seven voyages concern the settlement of the Eastern Shore, first by Pentaquod, a peaceful member of the warlike Susquehannock tribe who settles among the Nanticokes, and then by the three white families that dominate the remainder of the novel. The Steeds are Catholics who settle on Devon Island and eventually become landed gentry. The Turlocks are distinctly lower-class people who spring from indentured stock and adapt to the land. The Paxmores are peace-loving (“pax”) Quakers who have fled New England religious persecution. The fourth Family, the Cates, are the children of slaves. Michener uses the families and the landscape to demonstrate familiar themes. Devon Island, seat of the Steed family’s colonial power, erodes, despite humankind’s efforts to slow or stem the erosion, and finally disappears at the end of the novel after Pusey Paxmore’s funeral and the hurricane that follows it. Pusey—descended from the moral center of the novel, the Paxmores—has just finished serving time for involvement in the Watergate scandal. The Steed family also declines, much like the Southern families in the plays of...

(The entire section is 521 words.)