Themes

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 235

The Savage Mind is a book by cultural anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss. The book's thesis, or overall theme, is that human cultures are governed by rules that operate in the subconscious level. For instance, one culture might consider a certain act immoral whilst another culture might believe the opposite. These different patterns of logic are what cause different cultures to have tension and disagreements between each other.

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One of the themes that is prominent in the book but is not directly discussed is Lévi-Strauss's structuralist school of thought. In anthropology and sociology, structuralism is the idea that human culture elements can be analyzed and interpreted by studying the larger system that the elements are a part of.

Lévi-Strauss opines that the "savage mind," or the pre-modern psychological tendencies we still possess, is no different from the minds of contemporary humans. Lévi-Strauss states that all humans can form irrational beliefs and make illogical decisions and that this has shaped our modern society. For instance, when Joan of Arc or the Prophet Muhammad believed they were receiving special instructions from God, their respective actions born out of their logic greatly influenced world history.

Another theme explored in the book is the concept of acquiring knowledge and the idea of knowledge itself. Lévi-Strauss examines how humans, like other primates, develop a knowledge base, which they then use to construct a worldview and a self-image.

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