The novel Blood on the River by Elisa Carbone follows the adventures of Samuel Collier and focuses on his experiences of journeying to and living in Jamestown and its neighborhood between 1606 and 1610 A.D. Samuel begins in a low place, a hard place: he is an orphan living on the streets of London, scavenging food from garbage (Carbone 3). His father drank himself to death. His mother, turned out of their cottage by their landlord, dies in the poorhouse where she had been making nails twelve hours a day (Carbone 3). He steals a locket that once belonged to his mother from a pawnbroker at the age of eleven (Carbone 2). The magistrate spares his life, even young thieves were often hung in England both at this time and in later centuries, and “marches” him down to an orphanage overseen by Reverend Hunt (Carbone 6-7). This one act of charity saves his life. It is Reverend Hunt, however, who begins instructing him in the ways of manhood; he fills the place of father for Samuel. The protagonist, and narrator in the first person, Samuel Collier sees examples of virtue, matures, and observes the resolution of conflicts by forgiveness. Virtue, maturation, and conflict resolution through forgiveness, a high form of charity, are some themes of this novel.
Samuel’s first lesson from Reverend Hunt is a good one: “He says I need to make decisions based on love, not anger”(Carbone 7). He combines, in fact, strength of body and character. He impresses Samuel by living out the teachings of his religion, not just speaking about them, specifically patience and controlling one’s tongue: “Reverend Hunt is a tall, quiet man with broad shoulders and more patience than I have ever known” (Carbone 6-7). He has much more to learn. Reverend Hunt has a missionary zeal, he wants “to bring the good news of Christ to the native people who live in Virginia” (Carbone 8). Samuel has another motive: “But I want to go for the gold” (Carbone 8).
A large part of Samuel’s growth to manhood, his maturation, is due to the examples of good father-figures and his peers. Reverend Hunt is a peacemaker, like in the Sermon on the Mount. When Captain Smith and Master Wingfield are almost ready to fight, he steps in: “I would like to see a fight, but Reverend Hunt steps in. Sick as he is, Reverend Hunt calms Master Wingfield down and talks about how God wants us to bring Christianity to the New World”(Carbone 18). He intervenes out of charity, the theological virtue, and resolves that conflict without violence. Samuel and Reverend Hunt both show faith in God, as well:
My Soul nearly left my body last night. I felt it, slippery and shimmery
inside the shell of my body, trying to slide through the top of my head.
But Reverend Hunt came and laid hands on my brow to keep my soul
from leaving, and prayed for me to recover. (Carbone 19)
Captain Smith shows great temperance, the cardinal virtue meaning self-restraint, when he controls his impulse to punch Master Wingfield (Carbone 23). James shows charity and forgiveness by inviting Samuel to play with Richard and himself in the water on the Caribbean island, although Samuel has been treating them both quite horribly (Carbone 39). Samuel, wrongly, feels that he does not need friends, or anyone else: “I don’t need a friend. I haven’t needed anyone since my mum died” (Carbone 13). Captain Smith uses prudence, cardinal virtue, to show Samuel the need for other people, even though he treats Samuel roughly to drive the point home (Carbone 55-56). Richard apologizes to Samuel for insulting him and hitting him (Carbone 57). Samuel needs Richard’s help in order to get a slop bucket, and he apologizes, asking for forgiveness (Carbone 58). This man versus man conflict has been resolved through forgiveness; the fist-fighting didn’t solve anything. Captain Smith uses physical and immediate methods to teach Samuel.
Captain Smith has another excellent lesson for Samuel: that he should channel his anger:
“Don’t let your anger get the best of you, Samuel,” he says. “Learn
to channel it, and it will become your strength rather than your weakness.”
I have seen that he has been channeling his anger at Master Wingfield
and Captain Wingfield into his writing. He is telling his side of the story.
Captain Smith does well in that he both teaches and does good, as Our Lord’s saying is recorded in the Gospel books. He channels his own anger many times, as Samuel observes. Captain Smith also is an example of the cardinal virtue Prudence in that he notices that the settlement of Jamestown is being spied on by the Powhatans (Carbone 72). Reverend Hunt entreat Samuel to be kind, especially to James. Reverend Hunt shows charity himself especially to Samuel, and to Captain Smith by repeatedly entreating for his life. He also both does and teaches virtue. Samuel engages in a man versus self conflict when he reproaches himself for having failed to gain James’ trust and to befriend him; forgiveness for himself and prayer resolve this conflict (Carbone 81-82).
Samuel has had a change of heart, repentance, spiritual and moral maturation. He has learned virtues through the teaching and examples of two good men, Reverend Hunt the pastor and Captain Smith the warrior. He loses both of these men, one to illness and the other to political defeat and return to England. The precious gifts of manhood and virtue he retains. It is very fitting that he himself should be forgiven by the Laydons after abducting their daughter, resolving the last conflict of this work without violence.
Carbone, Elisa. Blood on the River. Puffin Books, 2006.