Margaret Mead: A Portrait Critical Context - Essay

Edward Rice

Critical Context

While Mead predated the feminist movement, her life and some of her stated beliefs followed general feminist values. She remains an impressive role model for young adults of either sex, exemplifying her own belief that one should strive to achieve to the limit of one’s capabilities. Rice’s portrait captures Mead’s enthusiasm and energy, and he reflects the intense fascination that young people of several generations have shown for her.

Nevertheless, feminists may take exception to Rice’s statement in the first chapter, which characterizes the young Mead as “subtly defiant and skillfully manipulative.” Impressionable readers may interpret this praise for Mead’s ability to succeed as a suggestion that duplicity is a valid or necessary method employed by successful women. Mead herself, in looking back from a more mature viewpoint, expressed remorse for her underhanded and devious scheming, commenting that “I began to understand that one should not use either a person’s strengths or his weaknesses against him.” Mead went on to affirm her policy of optimism, asserting that the positive values of humanity would prevail.

Rice, by including this example of Mead examining Mead, thus allows the reader not only to view the achievements of the legendary woman but also to experience with her the ability to look beyond the disguises of behavior, of culture, and of custom to discover the underlying and unifying humanity of the individual.