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The Analysis of the Book The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman
The book The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down is a sad, beautiful and, sometimes, complicated story. The book was written by Anne Fadiman and published between the years 1997 and 1998. It is a drama that highlights a collision of two cultures in an attempt to explain the struggles of Hmong refugee family and their interaction with the modern healthcare system in California. Furthermore, it draws attention to the tragedy of individuals who have become a part of a culture and modernity without their clear understanding.
The writer tells the story of a young girl, Lia Lee, who the medics diagnose with epilepsy at a tender age of three months outlining the cultural conflicts that prevented her from getting adequate treatment. Her parents are reluctant with regard to looking for proper remedies and ways to cure their daughter due to the cultural beliefs that promote such a behavior. Fadiman goes ahead to explain the effects of Lia’s parents’ noncompliance and states that they are the cause of increased number of seizures and mental retardation. Discussing language and religious barriers and different ways of viewing the world, the author attempts to unravel an apparent clash of cultures coupled with the real tragedy of a man which remains the central focus of the piece of writing.
In my opinion, the writer's idea to use health issue as the central argument is very strategic. Obviously, there are many areas where people can experience a cultural misunderstanding, but she has chosen the mentioned one because of its importance in people's lives and the fact that one can do anything when he/she has some health problems. At one point, the author states that “A txiv neeb might be able to cure infertility by asking the couple to sacrifice a dog, a cat, a chicken, or a sheep” (Fadiman 4).
Moreover, through the story of Lia's condition and the way her parents handle it, I have come to realize that cultural clashes have adverse effects. As a result, one can conclude that people should be flexible enough to accept other ways of life. No doubt, had Lia's parents developed a different approach to modern medicine, her condition could have been treated. However, they do not take her medication seriously. Other factors like language barrier may have played a part in this but their already formed opinion and negative attitude towards western medicine is the most important one. In fact, they are against it, and even though there are lots of emergencies with regard to their daughter’s disease, they fail to take note of advice, and this becomes detrimental not only to Lia but also to them. Unfortunately, after the diagnosis made by doctors, they did not follow the treatment plan because of spiritual and may be practical reasons. Consequently, the young girl has not received the appropriate care. I, therefore, think that Fadiman's intention was to address the issue of health as an important one and to discourage negligence and ignorance concerning the problem on the part of people. I strongly believe that, for some reason, she is not pleased by the way that culture can get in the way of human health and ultimately lead to death. My opinion is that individuals should move away from cultural stereotypes that endanger their lives and prevent proper attention and care. Instead, they have to embrace modern ways that save and give more priority to man's life and well-being.
Having read and analyzed the story, I remain disturbed by the particular question of whether it is more important to rescue somebody’s life through the use of traditional medicine or someone's soul rejecting the pieces of advice provided by professionals because of some deeply held beliefs. In the book, Lia’s family believes that too much medicine can limit the effectiveness of spiritual healing. As for me, this is the highest level of ignorance as a person's health and life should come first before anything. A sickness like Lia's should be treated as a neurological disorder and not as a spiritual malfunction. The most worrying thing is that even after several years, her parents continue to conduct spiritual cleansing to ease her suffering. Their attempts do not work, and her condition worsens.
However, I cannot entirely blame people and, in this case, Lia's parents for acting in the way that they do. Even though it might look like they are guilty of what happens to their daughter, I also think that they act according to what they know and what they believe in. Their culture is in the center of everything they do. For instance, the author states that “They therefore hoped...that the quag dab peg could be healed. Yet they also considered the illness an honor” (Fadiman 22).
In my opinion, such a situation can be reversed only if people move away from cultural stereotypes, get exposed to and embrace various cultures. In this way, they can distinguish between which culture benefits them and which one does not bring them any advantages. I like the way Fadiman handles the vitality and life with much grace showing that there should be no winners or losers in the journey to save lives. What is important, therefore, is that life should have top priority, and people should take it with much seriousness.
At the same time, it seems to me that the writer may be biased herself, and this is noticeable in some ways. For example, she is not very impressed by the way the doctors handle Lia's condition, and she blames them for lack of cultural curiosity stating that she has spent hundreds of hours to gain the trust of Lia's family. Normally, it may not be possible for a doctor to set aside so much time for one patient with the aim to find out their views of life and understand their way of thinking. On the other hand, one can notice from the way she brings out the lifestyle of the Hmong people that she perceives them as backward, rigid and unable to adopt the western medication. However, she gets really irritated when a waitress says that they are not good drivers. I think, this may be due to the Hmong's inability to understand and adapt to the western culture. Therefore, it might be difficult for them to read the traffic lights correctly. It is, thus, very biased of her to sympathize with the Lia's family yet become unwilling to demonstrate the same level of empathy and understanding to others she comes across. I believe that she should have embraced leniency in her writing.
In conclusion, I think that this book clearly demonstrates the need to better understand people's culture and beliefs. Doctors should take time to get to know their patients in cases where there might be cultural barriers like language and spiritual beliefs. I, therefore, strongly believe that this move can foster a better doctor-patient relationship. It is advisable to have a cross-cultural understanding to avert tragedies like that of Lia. For this situation to happen, people have to be made aware of the various aspects of western culture that are of benefit to them like medicine. The work of Fadiman is also appreciated in the modern medicine as with its help doctors have begun to tolerate and accept cultural diversity. For instance, they have realized why a Jehovah witness believer is against blood transfusion during surgery, and why Arabs do not allow male doctors to handle female patients. If well understood, all these aspects can defeat various ideologies held by people. I am, therefore, impressed by Anne Fadiman's work since it is an eye opener with regard to things that happen in most parts of the world and usually go unnoticed.
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