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Anne Fadimanís Ethnography

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When representatives of two distant cultures face problems of misunderstanding, tolerance is the key for cooperation. Anne Fadiman’s characters had a common interest to treat young girl, who had epilepsy. However, confrontation came to the forefront. Therefore, two approaches appeared destructive and useless, acting discretely.

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“The spirit catches you and you fall down” is the unique cross-cultural ethnography, devoted to the interrelation between Western and Eastern medicine. The opposition between materialistic and mental values, presented in confrontation between Hmong and doctors, outlines duality of human nature and its perception in different cultures.

Appreciating wisdom of ancient cultures, Fadiman noticed intolerance of Western society that perceives modern medical system as the all powerful one. Nevertheless, case studying that provided the basis for Fadiman’s ethnography has shown the importance of harmony and tolerance. Cultural diffusion could have laid the balance between mental and physical, spiritual and materialistic aspects of treatment and save the young girl, who suffered from serious disease.

Studying emblematic cases of cross-cultural intolerance, Fadiman paid attention to newly rediscovered Hmong culture with its unique traditions and folk laws, through which Lee’s family perceives world.

Interviewing different representatives of Hmong society, Fadiman generalised several maternity traditions analyzing the reason of Lia’s illness. The author focused on these traditions in the first chapter. Their lifestyle, the process of a child’s growth described in this chapter, emphasising main aspects of Lia’s childhood, including well-wishing and shaman’s treatment showed the perception of wealth on a spiritual level. The second chapter characterise Hmong people as proud and self-sufficient individuals.

In the beginning of chapter three, nature and treatment of epilepsy is described as the opposition between Eastern and Western medicine. Doctor’s instructions were strict and predicted. They began Lia’s treatment, using medical procedures, whereas her parents believed in their methods, based on spiritual treatment of shaman and sacrifices. By the chapter seven, Lia was taken away from her parents in order to provide proper treatment. However, chapters eight, nine and ten were concentrated on feelings and memories of Lia and her parents, expressing how important it is to perceive people with unfamiliar culture respectfully.   

The treatment appeared ineffective, disputing about measures and approaches, doctors and Lees suppressed upset girl. Therefore, when Lia was hanging between life and death, representatives of different cultures realised how important it was to respect each other’s worlds. If they had done it earlier, Lia’s life could have been saved. However, in eleventh chapter, the author explains that it they realized too late, that Lia’s wealth was their common goal, misleadingly forgotten.

In the thirteenth chapter, Lia’s parents were able to take dying girl home to treat her in their own way, using alternative medicine. Chapters fourteen and fifteen focused on adaptation to Lia’s physical state. Her parents continued supporting her, giving her soul important treatment of love. Chapter sixteen explained reasons, why Hmong society is so proud and self-sufficient, refreshing memories about Hmong history. The last chapters of Fadiman’s story emphasized the bitterness of the loss, Lia’s parents and doctors realized that the terrible mistake has been done. The great potential of a young girl was buried, because people with two opposite opinions could not cooperate.   

Lia Lee’s parents disregarded physical aspect of epilepsy as the part main reason of her illness while doctors considered spiritual issue as barbarian and ignorant point of view on the nature of this disease. However, the author insists on complex perception of this illness. Spiritual curing cannot be effective in curing people, whereas physical illness highly connected with the mental aspect of the illness. Therefore, fusion of Eastern and Western medicine is considered as the only possible improvement of cross-cultural interaction. Fadiman’s work is highly concerned with cultural differences in medicine. However, in a broad sense, this work reminds us that society needs both spiritual and material development, whereas the absence of each of these components leads to social destruction.

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Therefore, Fadiman explains that psychological comfort is an important aspect in the process of treatment. The shows us how miserable the young girl was, when doctors and parents acted discretely. However, Fadiman emphasizes that cynical and self-assured Western medicine appears powerless, when spiritual aspect is outlined. Alternative medicine has always been part of Hmong culture. Respecting shamans and traditions of their treatment they were closer to their forefathers and appeared protected by them.

Unconditional love of Lia’s parents appeared a longstanding feeling that can overcome circumstances, whereas western materialistic medicine was helpless. When Lia’s parents were taking the young girl home, doctors predicted death. They explained that Lia would not survive in normal conditions without treatment. Nevertheless, girl lived in vegetative state.

The author emphasized that routs and traditions are very important for people with different culture. Therefore, love and care helped young girl to survive. The tragedy of loss made doctors and Lia’s parents feel guilty, but this pain appeared an important lesson to all of them. Love is the most important remedy, absent in Western culture. It reminds reader once again that spiritual sphere is an essential part of society.

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