The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down An Anthropological Interpretation

The work concerns Hmong refugees settled in Merced, California and their cultural struggles with the local community. The reading is worth going through in large part because of the method of development used by the author. Fadiman has relied on a mix of anthropology and storytelling in order to convey the cultural differences and the resulting conflicts between the various branches of the Hmong and the local people. Cultural conflict is a broad theme of the work but the primary focus lies on medical anthropology and highlighting how cultural differences contributed to the death of the protagonist Lia Lee. The appreciable thing about the work is its ease of delivery to the reader. Unlike other anthropological readings, this work develops as a tale of people stuck in an alien culture where they are unable to assimilate effectively. The author’s use of simple language allows the reader to easily accumulate what is being related. This approach on the author’s part also makes the work more approachable to novice anthropological readers and the wider reading audience in general. While the author’s approach of storytelling has its advantages, it cannot be denied that the author’s account tends to bias the overall anthropological account. The story telling method tends to involve the reader emotionally. This is especially true given the storyline involving a four year old girl who spends the next twenty six years in a vegetative state because of uncompromising attitudes on the part of her parents and her physicians. The average reader going through the account tends to point fingers at various characters in an attempt to place the blame for the protagonist’s condition. The contention behind an anthropological account is not to create and place blames but to relate the conditions of a place or situation. This form of author’s anthropological account makes it easier to understand the situation at hand but also tends to complicate an unbiased assessment of the situation since an emotional attachment to the tale is created. On another note, the author’s style of writing tends to make the account rather dry compared to other novels. In addition, the author tends to take onto emotional elements repeatedly, especially from the point of view of the Hmong and their cultural peculiarities. For example, the author projects the Hmong’s stance on surgery by relating (Fadiman, 1997): If the soul cannot find its jacket, it is condemned to an eternity of wandering – naked and alone. However, the author fails to relate the stance of the surgeons effectively. The Hmong’s point of view on avoiding surgery fearing damage to the soul is without doubt conveyed more effectively than the competing stance of the surgeons. The failure of surgeons in operating on the Hmong is projected more as a mistake of the surgeons than the Hmong since there are no effective interpreters between the two. I feel that the author has failed to appreciate the work load placed on the surgeons in a community medicine system where it is not possible to pursue each case individually given constraints on time and other resources. In such a situation, it was for the community leaders of the Hmong and other local organisations to look into the conflicting points of view and mediate. The author’s approach of placing the blame entirely on the medical system is not fair enough. The author has taken her time to develop the entire tale from a number of different perspectives but the narrative shows that the author was herself somewhat emotionally attached to the protagonist. Emotional attachment on the part of the author has resulted in a rather skewed analysis of conditions that led to the vegetative state of Lia Lee and her subsequent death