Caleb's Crossing Questions and Answers
by Geraldine Brooks

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What is the central theme in the novel? How is the theme conveyed through characters, the setting, symbolism, and so on? What are examples of this theme as it appears throughout the novel? Explain why you chose this as the central theme.

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Esmeralda Keene eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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There are many themes we could choose to discuss in Geraldine Brooks's novel Caleb's Crossing (2011). These include the significance of names, the contrast between country life and city life, and the cycle of life and death.

However, one theme that I think would be particularly interesting to highlight is the importance of individual identity. What makes us who we are? How do the characters find their identities, and how do they struggle in the process? Let us talk about this with respect to the novel's various elements you mentioned in your question: characters, setting, and symbols.


Bethia is the novel's protagonist. The story opens when she is 15. Her name means "servant," and she struggles with it: she is a young modern woman. She lives in a conservative place (in a Puritan settlement on Martha’s Vineyard). She studies in secret, even though she is not supposed to. Additionally, she wants to be treated with the same fairness and respect as her brother, but she knows that the society she lives in considers him her superior. She does not want to be a "servant," although her name, given at birth, designates that role for her. She is somewhat at odds with her identity as a female. Additionally, she has more interest in the spirituality of the island's indigenous group than in the religion she is being raised in.

I had come to think that the Wampanoag, who dealt so kindly with their babes, were wiser than we in this. What profit was there in requiring little ones to behave like adults? Why bridle their spirits and struggle to break their God-given nature before they had the least understanding of what was wanted of them?

This brings us to the next point.

Caleb, the book's other main character, also struggles with his identity. He is part of the island's indigenous tribe, the Wampanoag. Early in the book, he becomes friends with Bethia. He is interested in the book she is reading.

I held it out and Caleb took it. This was the first book he had held in his...

(The entire section contains 698 words.)

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