(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Acting almost as a participant observer in the lives of her parents—an anthropological technique first used by Mead in the United States, whereby an individual assumes a role within the culture that she is studying—Catherine insightfully integrates Mead and Bateson’s professional and personal lives. The contrast between her parents is striking. Mead was affectionately maternal, while Bateson was often preoccupied and emotionally distant. Puzzled as to how to entertain his daughter on her visits with him, Bateson initiated a series of excursions to national parks, continuing a tradition begun when she was an infant of encouraging her interest in the natural world. In nature, Gregory and Catherine found common ground for discussion, and through metaphor, he taught her about the world. Otherwise, he evinced little interest in Catherine’s pursuits unless they meshed with his own. He seemingly expected her, even as a collaborating adult, to abandon professional or philosophical questions that did not intrigue him.

Bateson was passionate in his regard for the natural world, but he was not sanguine about humanity’s future. As an upper-class British atheist, he focused on the excesses and corruptions in American society, assuming prominence among members of some California countercultures. Mead, on the other hand, valued human beings above all else and was devoted to the study of children. Animals evoked little response from Mead; she was uninterested even in pets. While Bateson was almost fatalistic, Mead was optimistic, believing in the...

(The entire section is 639 words.)