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Gender And Racial Discrimination In Caleb’s Crossing

The characters in Caleb’s Crossing deal with issues of prejudice against their gender and racial discrimination. The character Bethia, a Puritan minister’s daughter, deals with lack of control in her own life due to her gender. Though the novel does take place in the 1600s, where a woman’s independence was quite unheard of and it was normal for the man in the family to make the woman’s decision, there were still different levels of severity. Bethia’s older brother, Makepeace, exhibits a harsh control of his sister throughout the majority of the novel. Makepeace constantly shouted superior to Bethia like, “Enough! Pride is a sin sister. Beware of it” (18). One could think of Makepeace ways towards women (especially towards Bethia), on the extreme side of the spectrum. However, a man like Samuel did not treat Bethia like Makepeace. Samuel demonstrates respect and some independence to Bethia, given the time period. Gender discrimination is still prevalent in today’s society. In parts of China and India, a woman is considered second class. Or in some parts of the Middle East, women cannot do anything without the permission of their father or another male family member.

Racial discrimination is another issue that the characters in Caleb’s Crossing deal with. The English settlers thought themselves as superior to the Wampanoag. Caleb and Joel faced the hardships of being a different race than the English settlers as they progressed in the colonial world, (ie. their college education). When Bethia was a child, and did not know any better, she called the Wampanoag “salvages, pagans, barbarians, the heathen” (10). Since the Wampanoag were not white, and did not live their lives as the settlers did, they thought of them as inferior. Racial discrimination is still in today’s society. There is much racism towards Middle Easterners. Many think assume all Middle Easterners are terrorists and people with no morals, all due to terrorist attacks by Islam extremists/jihads.

Caleb’s persona was different than what I thought it was going to be. In my previous knowledge and understanding of Native Americans, they either converted to Christianity completely, or stayed true to their Native American beliefs. However, Caleb incorporated both Christian, and Wampanoag beliefs in his daily life. When Caleb came to live Bethia’s family, he claims that Bethia “Did God not create the sun” (96). He says this after telling Bethia “Not a morning has passed, for as long as I can remember, that I did not sing a greeting to Keesakand upon his rising” (96). Caleb took his two beliefs and combined them, resulting in him being a more understanding person of wisdom.

Even though Bethia Mayfield went off to marry Samuel Corlett, Caleb is her true soul mate. Though they are not from the same parents, they are brother and sister. Their bond is stronger than the one Bethia has with her actual brother, Makepeace. From the start, Bethia claimed that Caleb “had soon become more of a brother to me than Makepeace” (25). As the years went on, Caleb continuously looked after Bethia, in a brotherly protecting manner. Caleb confides to Bethia that “if I were your brother, I would not sell you into base servitude just to bay myself a future” (145). This exhibits that Caleb would put Bethia before himself, a true brotherly act.

Even when Caleb passes away, Bethia still has a connection with him. Bethia says that Caleb “visits me, in my dreams…” (309). The strong bond that Caleb and Bethia share is stronger than any other character in the novel. A soul mate is one who is truly suited for another person, and this is exactly what Caleb is to Bethia, and visa versa.

Religion is a major aspect of the world in the novel, Caleb’s Crossing. Christianity is the foundation for the colonists’ lives. Bethia’s father, a Puritan minister, would go on missions to convert the Wampanoag to Christianity. The Puritan lifestyle was simple, one was to do their daily tasks and pray, in return, they would earn the grace of God. In Bethia’s life, they would do the “chores that must be done, and then sat to pray” (15). They would do this, even in times of grief.

Had it not been for religion, Caleb would have never entered the colonial lifestyle. Caleb would not never gotten the opportunity to go to college if Bethia’s father had not been so passionate about his Puritan missions.

Doing something un-Christian like was immensely severe, and could potentially be punishable by law. When Bethia, out of anger cursed, “ God damn you, Makepeace” (178), she was ridiculed by being harshly punished. Bethia was forced to a wear a sign on her clothes for a week, and was reprimanded by Makepeace through forceful beatings.

In Caleb’s Crossing, Caleb’s wit and strong aptitude for learning are not held is a very high esteem due to his ethnicity. If Caleb was white, then is academic excellence would be admired by all, as it should. Caleb faced struggles just to earn an education, like the colonists. In the academic world, Caleb was treated as an outcast as “fellow scholars did nothing make them welcome, and instead contrived an array of small slights, such as leaving no place for them to sit upon the forms in the hall and never addressing a remark to either one at dinner or during the brief recreations in the yard” (129). To be treated like an outcast by his fellow peers demonstrates how his Wampanoag heritage was used against him, and prevented him from being accepted. This happened to Joel as well. Since Caleb and Joel were Native American, they worked twice as hard to earn what was so easily given to the white colonists. Unfortunately, this still happens today, in the United States. People expect that certain minorities will not achieve what others can. Race and ethnicity to do not define one’s success, a person’s actions do.

Bethia’s eagerness to learn is most engaging in the novel, Caleb’s Crossing. As a child, Bethia loved learning, and was able to retain information well. Bethia yearned for knowledge, therefore, when her father stopped giving her lessons, she would listen in on her brother Makepeace’s. She would even “chime in with any answers that my brother

(Makepeace) could not give” (15). Bethia was even able to learn the Wampanoag language, just by listening in on her father’s lessons.

Even as Bethia grew older, her love of learning did not die. Bethia even accepted a menial job at a college buttery, just to be able to overhear college lectures. Bethia explains to Master Corlett that “ all my life, the one thing I have yearned after is an education of the kind that is closed to me by my sex” (239). Throughout the novel, all Bethia wants is to be able to learn, it is a constant yearning of hers. Bethia taking a pitiful job at a college buttery to expand her already impressive knowledge unveils how important an education is to Bethia. This aspect of Bethia causes the reader to have tremendous respect for the character of Bethia.

Modern American Prose

If Black English Isn’t a Language, Then Tell Me What Is? by James Baldwin.

Baldwin explains how important language is, explaining that it can be used as a tool. Baldwin also writes about how Black English is its own language.

“Blacks came to the United States chained to each other, but from different tribes: Neither could speak the other’s language” (37). Baldwin’s use of the colon further helps him convey his point. This particular use of syntax causes the reader to logically see the author’s point.

On Keeping a Notebook by Joan Didion.

In this essay, Joan Didion writes about how she keeps a notebook, and records her random, daily life events.

“Why did I write it down? In order to remember, of course, but exactly what was it I wanted to remember” (99). Didion asks rhetorical questions, which results in an engaged reader. The casual, conversational style of the writer is demonstrated through this essay. Joawn Didion has a stream of consciousness style of writing.

Skating by Annie Dillard

This essay is about Annie’s childhood during a big snow, where she writes her memories of their Irish Catholic neighbor skating at night. This essay also explains Annie’s experience with Catholic racism when she was a child.

“What was she doing out there? Was everything beautiful so bold? I expected a car to run over her at any moment: the open street was a fatal place, where I was forbidden to set foot. The author, Annie Dillard’s use of detail causes the reader to know more about the child, Annie. The detail of not being allowed to go into the street was additional information. The detail used by the author reveals how much the event meant to the author, and how much it impacted her.

The Long Loneliness by Loren Eiseley

Loren Eiseley states that man is alone all his life. However, he can strive to be an intellectual human being.

“His are not, however, the cold-blooded ways of the true fishes” Eiseley’s use of commas in the sentence cause the reader to pause, and reflect on what the author is trying to say. Her choice of diction for the word “however” also allows the readers to think more thoroughly on what the author is saying.

On Being a Journalist by Ellen Goodman

In this essay, Goodman writes about journalism, and how one can connect bigger events with their own personal life ones.

“To meet my “quota”, I need to two opinions a week, although I assure you that some weeks I overflow with ideas, percolate opinions, while other weeks I can’t decide what I think about the weather” (187). Goodman’s use of commas in this particular sentence makes the writing seem more like a conversation than an essay. What Goodman talks about is a common feeling everyone can relate to, making her writing enjoyable with her readers. Goodman constantly uses commas, not just in this particular passage. This method lets the reader ponder what they have just read. With Goodman’s style of writing, the reader can feel connected to the writer and their work.

Prologue by Stephen Jay Gould

Gould wants America to go back to the old roots of intellectual science. He goes on in saying that protecting the environment is not just for the sake of the Earth, but more for the sake of the human race.

“ I doubt that we can do much to derail the earth’s history in any permanent sense by the proper planetary time scale of millions of years” (211). Gould conveys his knowledge of science in this passage. Though he combines this with his personal opinion and twist, the reader can still get knowledgeable information out of it. Gould continuously combines his opinion with fact, making the essay more intriguing to the reader.

On Discovery by Maxine Hong Kingston

This essay describes the stereotypical things a woman had to do, and how it was no small feat.

“Once upon a time, a man, named Tang Ao, looking for the Gold Mountain, crossed an ocean, and came upon the Land of Women” (255). Kingston’s choice of diction in “once upon a time” gives the essay a story-like feel. The use of commas make the sentence flow smoothly, further adding to the story-like feel of the essay.

Children in the Woods by Barry Lopez

Lopez writes about how relationships can be based off of just one encounter in one’s life.

“I remember once finding a fragment of a raccoon’s jaw in an alder thicket” (289). The fact that Lopez writes about a personal experience makes his writing more personal. The reader is able to connect on a higher level with the author.

The Swiss at War by John McPhee

This essay describes the Swiss’ military abilities by writing about important battles and victories.

“The Swiss infantry, six hundred years ago, knew not only how to form a square but also how to break trough almost anything” (327). McPhee praise for the Swiss army’s high ability conveys to the reader how remarkable the Swiss army really is. When the writer conveys his emotions and opinions in his writing, the readers are more likely to understand and agree when some emotions are put in with facts.

The Pen and the Scalpel by Richard Selzer

The author writes about how he was a surgeon, and compares it to his love of writing.

“A doctor walks in and out of a dozen short stories a day. It is irresistible to write them down” (335). Selzer conveys to the reader that a doctor is an exciting occupation, therefore exciting things should be written down.

To Err is Human by Lewis Thomas

Thomas writes and explains that humans make errors, yet learn from their mistakes.

“We are at our human finest, dancing with our minds, when there are more choices than two” (383). Thomas explains that humans are not meant to behave as robots, and only have a bland, one choice. When humans can choose, they are able to truly be themselves.

In Search of History by Barbra Tuchman

The author talks about how historical writing is achieved.

“In my opinion, short words are always preferable to long ones; the fewer syllables the better, and monosyllables, beautiful and pure like ‘bread’ and ‘sun’ and ‘grass’ are the best of all” (394). Tuchman’s opinion on writing makes the reader feel as though they are being taught a true value. By putting in her own opinion, Tuchman emphasizes important things to know when writing something historical.

Choice: A Tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Alice Walker

Walker describes M.L.K’s work and connects it to her own personal life.

“Take me, Daddy,’ I say with assurance; ‘I’m the prettiest” (444). Alice Walker’s decision to include a personal memory causes the readers to feel more emotional and empathetic towards what Walker writes.

The Essayist by E.B White

E.B White describes how the Essayist is a man, and describes the essays in the collection.

“The essayist is a self-liberated man, sustained by the childish belief that everything he thinks about, everything that happens to him, is of general interest” (468). E.B White says this in a joking, casual tone. However, there is some truth in what she says.

The Right Stuff by Tom Wolf

Wolf describes what it takes to be a military test pilot.

“This was a skillet! — a frying pan! — a short order grill! — Not gray but black, smeared with skid marks from one end to the other and glistening with pools hydraulic fluid…” (543). This vivid imagery takes the reader and puts them in the pilot’s setting.


Presentiment- an intuitive feeling about the future.

Sauerkraut- chopped cabbage that has been pickled in brine.

Porpoise- sea animals related to dolphins and whales.

Adept- very skilled or proficient in something.

Percolate- liquid or gas that filters through a substance.

Ambivalence- the state of having mixed feelings or contradictory ideas about something.

Perverse- showing a deliberate and obstinate desire to behave in an unacceptable manner, often in spite of consequences.

Malfeasance- wrongdoing, especially by a public official.

Elicit- to derive from reason

Effervesce- To become frothy.

Vis-a-vis- face to face with.

Mendacious- Given to lying.

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