Patterns of Culture

by Ruth Fulton

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 312

Patterns of Culture by Ruth Benedict is a comparative anthropological study of three societies. The study is written for the purpose of taking an in-depth look at the relationship and effects of how culture shapes individual behavior. The three major societies studied are; the Zuni (Pueblo) from Southwestern United States, the Kwakiutl from Canada, and the Dobuans from Melanesia. For this reading material, there are no individual characters to analyze, but rather communities comprised of individuals and their behaviors. This is perhaps a point of tension in her anthropological study. It can be argued that it is not accurate nor ethical to write so generally about communities of people. However, Benedict has been praised for writing from an understanding and empathetic point of view. Benedict explores cultural patterns, such as views on marriage, war/violence, family, and other subjects of each society and provides a cross-comparison. She argues that behavior is not biological and instead taught. Benedict writes of the Zuni as having Apollonian and Dionysian characteristics. The Zuni, as Benedict observes, value sobriety and have reserved and controlled personalities. Benedict also observes that the Zuni seem to lack emotion and are very stoic in nature. She has been criticized for making this generalization, and it is believed that this is more likely the nature of a subset of the larger culture. Furthermore, she states that the Zuni are excessive and push boundaries. The Kwakiutl are described as megalomaniacal in the sense that they are a society that believes in a more competitive approach to display dominance. The Dobuans are described as being paranoid and fearful. It is important to stress that she writes of these characteristics not as judgments, but rather she challenges the American word and descriptor "abnormal." Ruth challenges her readers to reconsider the limitations of "normal" behavior and to widen our cultural definitions to better understand cultural deviations.

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