Analytical Essay: The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down

Discipline: – Anthropology

Type of service: Essay

Spacing: Double spacing

Paper format: APA

Number of pages: 3 pages

Number of sources: 2 sources

Paper details


THE SPIRIT CATCHES YOU AND YOU FALL DOWN: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures.  By Anne Fadiman

  • Publisher:Farrar, Straus and Giroux.  Any edition is adequate.  368 pages.

— Chronicles the struggles of a Hmong refugee family from Laos, and their interactions with the American health care system in Merced, California.

What:  One five-page (max) essay on The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down.

The essay should discuss the book from the anthropological perspective.  The questions and topics to be considered and that must be addressed are below.



1.5 line spacing with .8 inch margins on all sides.  Use 12 point size print in either Ariel or Times Roman font.  In the upper RIGHT corner, place your name, the course, and the date in SINGLE SPACE.  Example:

When—the DUE DATE:  Online by 23:55 Monday Oct. 29, 2018.  NO late essays will be accepted unless there is proof of a valid emergency that is approved by the professor, and then with only a one-week delay plus a 20-point late penalty.  See the FAQs file doc in the “GETTING STARTED” section for what constitutes an “emergency”.  Hint:  don’t procrastinate!  Keep up with reading & do the essay in advance.

Value/ Score:  100 points.

Scoring criteria based on:

  • Critical thinking from an anthropological perspective and discourse.
  • Writing skills & clarity:
    • Organization & logic
    • Composition
    • Grammar & Spelling
  • Addressing the assignment topics.
  • Adhering to format specifications.


THE SPIRIT CATCHES YOU AND YOU FALL DOWN:  A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures, .by Anne Fadiman

The Assignment:

  • Write an essay considering the four topic questions below.
  • Integrate the questions into a cohesive essay.
  • Plan on doing a few drafts to organize the concepts logically organization, and to edit the writing to be efficient and compact.
  • Think and write in an anthropological discourse using the discipline’s terms, concepts and perspectives.
  • The key concern to address: “How is this case study anthropological?”
    • Make a case for Fadiman’s book as an anthropological one, and explain why.
  • Limit any summarization of examples only to what is necessary to substantiate your argument.

Cultural Relativism:  The view that ethical truths depend upon the individuals and groups holding them.  CR is the concept that because no universal standard of behavior exists, people should not judge the behavior of those from other cultures as either correct or wrong.  Review CR in Module One, PPT-2 (“The Uniqueness of Anthropology”).


  • How is cultural relativism evident in Fadiman’s book? Who were able to apply the cultural relativism perspective?  The Hmong?  The doctors?  The U.S. government agencies?  Explain and provide examples.  Is CR reflected in Fadiman’s approach?  If so,  how?

Consider:  what is the value of CR in critical thinking?  How does CR enable us to be consciously objective of Lea’s situation & the Hmong immigration experience in America, & of the American medical system’s & government’s approach to the Hmong?


      Religion:  An organizational institution premised on the doctrine and dogma (beliefs) from written texts.  These sacred texts establish the authority for the institution’s beliefs and practices.  Consider how ‘religion’ as a Western concept may not be applicable to tribal cultures (review ‘religion’ in Module One, PPT-1 “What is Anthropology?”).

      Spirit Tradition:  Beliefs concerning the spirit world, independent of doctrine or a corporate organization.

      Animism:  The belief that spirits exist everywhere—in people, places, nature, and things.


  • How did the Hmong spirit tradition and American concept of religion determine how they both approached Lia Lee’s epilepsy and its treatment, and why?
  • What was the role of culture (both the Hmong’s and the American’s), regarding their approaches?
  • How do the Hmong and American cultures both regard ‘religion’ & animism’?
  • For the Americans, is religion integral to their culture & their identity, or a separate entity? For the Hmong, is animism integral to their culture & their identity, or a separate entity?
  • For both the Hmong & the Americans, how do their religious/spiritual beliefs direct their culture’s social organization, family relationships, and gender roles?
  • How do the Hmong view a person’s spirit and its relation to the person’s health? Explain how & why this makes sense?

Consider:  What is the relationship between religion & culture for the Americans and between the animistic spirit tradition & culture for the Hmong?


Ethnocentrism:  the view that one’s way of thinking and doing things is the only right & correct one.  Review ethnocentrism in Module One, PPT-2 (“The Uniqueness of Anthropology”).


  • How were the Hmong and the American medical & government system both ethnocentric in their views towards the other?
  • What was the basis of their ethnocentrism? Was it conscious and intentional?
  • Is ethnocentrism necessary in a culture? If so, why?
  • How did Hmong and American ethnocentrism justify their ways of life & cultural identity, and thus preserve their culture?
  • How did their ethnocentrism sabotage their agendas?

Cultural Adaptation:  the ability to adapt to a culture by learning how it operates, and what its values and expectations are in order to survive & thrive.  It does not imply acceptance or assimilation.

  • What does Fadiman’s case study tell us about the power of culture and of the cultural adaptation process?
  • What were the intended goals and consequences of the resettlement program, and how do they illustrate the tenacity & power of culture?
  • Discuss the problems and successes of the Hmong’s adaptation in terms of the expectations and experiences of the first, second and third generations.

Consider:  The American government’s resettlement program for the Hmong in the U.S. created less than optimal situations for the Hmong and at a great expense to American taxpayers.  It was a situation of good intentions resulting in unintended consequences.  How does this book influence your thinking and approach to immigrant groups?  Does the Hmong immigration experience apply to other immigrant groups in America today?  Why or why not?

FYI question based on previous student submissions—NOT to be included in the essay.

            What is a ‘novel’?  How would you classify Fadiman’s book?

NOTE:The essay model and the summary of the book are on the following pages.  What is important in this assignment is how you think about the book’s situations, and your critical thinking of it as an anthropological case study.  By providing a summary, it is clear that the assignment does not require a rehash of it.  Focus on your analysis of the case study instead!

Margaret Mead

Anth 333:33 World Cultures

Spirit Essay

April 20, 2020



Essays are one type of writing assignment in compliance with the University’s writing requirements.  As such, they should be written in a formal academic style.  Academic writing is technical, objective and written from the third person perspective.  It avoids the personal essay style that is written from the first person perspective using “I”, “me” and “my.”  Though this personalized style may be acceptable or preferred in some English class assignments, it is not considered formal academic writing and is not acceptable for this course.

Students who are not practiced with the academic style of writing will find that it involves thinking in an objective manner that detaches the writer from the subject.  To this end, the essay assignment will be a good exercise.  This criteria model is an example of the academic writing style and serves as a format on which to model the essay assignment.

When writing an academic essay use correct grammar, punctuation and spelling, and indent the beginning of each paragraph.  Essays must be typed in Ariel or Times New Roman font size 12, 1.5 spacing, and with .8 inch margins all around.  In the upper right hand corner, written in single space, is typed the student’s name, the course title, assignment, and submission date.  Give the essay a title.  Number the pages at the bottom center of each page and for classroom courses, staple the pages in the upper left corner.

Essays should present a ‘point of view’ (POV) on the subject.  Writing with a POV means that the essay should be oriented around a thesis statement that is arguable.  This means writing with a particular idea, approach, perspective that is debatable.  How the raw research data is treated is what makes a work interesting, distinctive, and significant.  Writing with a POV reflects how the author critically thinks about and analyzes a topic in relation to other concepts and contexts.  Writing without one is basically doing a book report that simply regurgitates or summarizes another researcher’s information—something that is unacceptable at the university level.

To develop a POV, think of a thesis statement that presents a sense of problem regarding the topic.  Take a position on the issue and argue it logically and critically with specific examples, using citations when required.  Critical thinking—thinking that is clear, objective, unbiased and able to isolates issues and address counters arguments—is valued and expected in academic writing at the university level.  For examples of writing with a POV on a topic, see the supplement, “Writing with a Point of View” in the TP (Term Paper) Folder.  Another supplement, “Critical Thinking is Critical,” is also included.

For the essay on Anne Fadiman’s The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, focus on why Fadiman’s book is an anthropological one.  Think and write in an anthropological perspective or discourse using the jargon or terminology of the discipline (e.g.: etic, emic, cultural relativism, ethnocentrism, animistic, etc.).  Limit the essay to a minimum of three pages and a maximum of five pages.  To address all the topic questions and anthropological issues in a cohesive essay that meets the page limit, the answers to the questions and issues must be well-thought out in advanced, and expressed in writing that is efficient, ‘tight’ and economical.  To this end, several drafts may be necessary so plan accordingly.

Read the book ASAP with the essay questions and with an anthropological perspective in mind, and take notes.  After the first several chapters, the remaining ones describe the ongoing progress of Lia’s situation, often with repetitious information.  Hence, reading of the last third of the book should proceed rather quickly.  As the book is being read, the essay questions should be kept in mind

A summary of the book is provided to keep the student focused on the anthropological aspects of the book.  Limit any summary of the book only to what is necessary for making an argument—the professor knows the book, so any undue elaboration simply wastes space and works against the student.  Again, think and write efficiently.

There are many WEB essays on Fadiman’s book, but none specifically addresses the work from the anthropological perspective and the issues required.  This is one reason why it is not necessary to submit the essay to Turnitin which tracks plagiarism—none is plausible or expected.  And, the professor is familiar with the papers available online.

Students may decide to read the online articles on the book as they may help them think about the assignment issues.  Reading the articles should not substitute for actually reading the book—it is a significant work—and the experience and benefits from reading it will dramatically impact and potentially change the reader.

Review the “Spirit Essay Criteria” file for the assignment requirements, and the questions that are required to be addressed.


THE SPIRIT CATCHES YOU AND YOU FALL DOWN:  A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures.  By Anne Fadiman

On the most basic level, the book tells the story of the family’s second youngest and favored daughter, Lia Lee, who was diagnosed with severe epilepsy, and the culture conflict that obstructs her treatment.

Through miscommunications about medical dosages and parental refusal to give certain medicines due to mistrust and misunderstandings, and the inability of the doctors to develop more empathy with the traditional Hmong lifestyle or try to learn more about the Hmong culture, Lia’s condition worsens.  The dichotomy between the Hmong’s perceived spiritual factors and the Americans’ perceived scientific factors comprises the overall theme of the book.

The book is written in a unique style, with every other chapter returning to Lia’s story and the chapters in-between discussing broader themes of Hmong culture, customs, and history; American involvement in and responsibility for the war in Laos; and the many problems of immigration, especially assimilation and discrimination.

While particularly sympathetic to the Hmong, Fadiman presents the situation from the perspectives of both the doctors and the family.  An example of medical anthropology, the book has been cited by medical journals and lecturers as an argument for greater cultural competence, and often assigned to medical, pharmaceutic, and anthropological students in the US.  In 1997, it won the National Book Critics Circle Award for General Nonfiction.

Amazon, Wikipedia

The Hmong people in America are mainly refugee families who supported the CIA militaristic efforts in Laos.  They are a clannish group with a firmly established culture that combines issues of health care with a deep spirituality that may be deemed primitive by Western standards.

In Merced, CA, which has a large Hmong community, Lia Lee was born, the 13th child in a family coping with their plunge into a modern and mechanized way of life.  The child suffered an initial seizure at the age of three months.  Her family attributed it to the slamming of the front door by an older sister.  They felt the fright had caused the baby’s soul to flee her body and become lost to a malignant spirit.  The report of the family’s attempts to cure Lia through shamanistic intervention and the home sacrifices of pigs and chickens is balanced by the intervention of the medical community that insisted upon the removal of the child from deeply loving parents with disastrous results.

This compassionate and understanding account fairly represents the positions of all the parties involved.  The suspense of the child’s precarious health, the understanding characterization of the parents and doctors, and especially the insights into Hmong culture make this a very worthwhile read. —Frances Reiher, Fairfax County Public Library, VA