Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Anthropologist Mary Catherine Bateson (who prefers the name Catherine) wrote With a Daughter’s Eye: A Memoir of Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson from her unique perspective as the couple’s only child. For her sources, she deliberately ignored her parents’ voluminous papers and published works, just as she studiously avoided interviewing any of their colleagues and friends, relying instead on her own memories. Much in the first four chapters, during which she describes her early childhood, is therefore impressionistic. Nevertheless, she recounts extraordinarily vivid memories of Mead and Bateson, buoyed no doubt by their photographic and film record of Catherine beginning at her birth. Mead, who spent most of her professional life exploring forms of childhood and child rearing, observed her daughter as if she were a subject for scholarly research, keeping copious notes as well as a film record. Notwithstanding, she was an affectionately attentive mother, and in With a Daughter’s Eye Catherine Bateson provides a fond remembrance of her famous parents.

In the central section of her book, Catherine describes her parents as she recalls them during her adolescence. After their divorce in 1950, Catherine remained with her mother in New York City, while vacationing with her father in California. She ably devotes much of the last several chapters to a technical analysis of her parents’ work. Her father, Gregory Bateson, the son of the...

(The entire section is 444 words.)


(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

With a Daughter’s Eye is a personal testimony from Catherine Bateson of her mother’s life as a woman who successfully combined motherhood with a thriving professional career. Furthermore, it provides an intimate portrait of a woman who provided a role model for generations of American women who had seen their own lives as narrowly proscribed by the culture in which they lived.

Mead served American women in other ways. In her early anthropological studies Coming of Age in Samoa (1928), Sex and Temperament (1935), and Male and Female (1949), she explored the roles of biological and cultural determinants in the formation of personality, finding that traits considered masculine in one culture (aggression, for example) could just as easily be considered feminine in another. Mead, in collaboration with Bateson, developed theories of the formation of temperament or personality types within cultures.

Mead’s career was initially aided by the farsighted Franz Boas, the professor at Columbia University who was instrumental in the development of modern anthropology. Boas shrewdly recognized that some aspects of culture were more accessible to female researchers than male ones, and nearly half of the anthropology graduate students trained at Columbia during his long tenure were women. Boas sent Mead to the field with instructions for studying adolescent behavior. Mead, equipped with theoretical grounding but little...

(The entire section is 528 words.)


(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Bateson, Mary Catherine. “Continuities in Insight and Innovation: Toward a Biography of Margaret Mead.” American Anthropologist 82 (June, 1980): 270-277. Bateson describes her reasons for publishing her highly personal recollections of her mother in an attempt to record the way Mead’s personal and professional lives were intertwined. Bateson views her study of her parents as anthropology, and indeed she functions as a participant observer in the culture of their lives.

Howard, Jane. Margaret Mead: A Life. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1984. Howard, a journalist, used as sources interviews with colleagues, friends, and acquaintances of Mead. Although the biography is informative, it is flawed by her uncritical use of her sources and the inclusion of unsubstantiated or gratuitous observations. Contains an index, bibliographies, and illustrations.

Lipset, David. Gregory Bateson: The Legacy of a Scientist. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1980. In the first section, Lipset provides a thorough biographic treatment of Bateson, while the second section is devoted to a cogent analysis of Bateson’s rich intellectual and professional pursuits. Bateson’s intellectual theorizing is made readily accessible through Lipset’s capable analyses. Contains an index, a bibliography, and citations.

Mead, Margaret. Blackberry Winter: My Earlier Years. New York: William Morrow, 1972. Mead described both her professional and her personal lives in this engaging autobiography, which is peppered with photographs of her life. Divided into three sections: Section 1 describes her early life, section 2 is a discussion of her fieldwork, and section 3 discusses her role as mother and grandmother.

Metraux, Rhoda. “Margaret Mead: A Biographical Sketch.” American Anthropolo-gist 82 (June, 1980): 262-269. In this opening article in an issue devoted exclusively to Mead, colleague Metraux provides a detailed yet concise biography of Mead. Includes a select bibliography.

Sahlins, Marshall. “Views of a Culture Heroine.” The New York Times Book Review, August 26, 1984, 1, 20-21. Anthropologist Sahlins provides an overview of Bate-son’s biography of her parents, as well as of Mead’s life and work in this extended book review.

Yans-McLaughlin, Virginia. “Margaret Mead.” In Women Anthropologists: A Biographical Dictionary, edited by Ute Gacs et al. New York: Greenwood Press, 1988. This highly informative yet concise biography of Mead carefully chronicles her professional life. Includes a bibliography of primary and secondary sources.