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Ruth Benedict - Patterns of Culture

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Ruth Benedict's anthropological book, Patterns of Culture explores the dualism of culture and personality. Benedict studies different cultures such as the Zuni tribe and the Dobu Indians. Each culture she finds is so different and distinctive in relation to the norm of our society. Each difference is what makes it unique. Benedict compares the likenesses of culture and individuality, "A culture, like an individual, is a more or less consistent pattern of thought or action" (46), but note, they are not the same by use of the word, "like." Benedict is saying that figuratively, cultures are like personalities. Culture and individuality are intertwined and dependent upon each other for survival.

The Zuni's, according to Benedict, are a culture that is very consumed with ceremony and ritual. The Zuni's value the absence of excess, moderation, ceremony and tradition, "He keeps the middle of the road, stays within the known map, does not meddle with disruptive psychological states...even in the exaltation of the dance he 'remains what he is, and retains his civic name" (79). This quote symbolizes the extreme devotion and belief infested in the Zuni culture. A strong sense of restraint and composure is found in the end of the quote, "even in the exaltation of the dance he remains what he is."

The Zuni's prize the unity of the community as a functioning whole. It is necessary in this culture to adapt to the norm of the community in order to be a successful member of society. The Zuni's are considered to be an Appolonian society. They are group centered, a humble, modest and ritualistic society. In a culture such as the Zuni's the individual voice can have a tendency to not be heard.

Unlike the Zuni, the Dobu value excess, imbalance, and immoderation. The Dobu are self-sufficient and self-reliant. They live in a hostile environment and wear fake smiles and only care about their own personal gain. Dobu's will kill, cheat, and steal to get the things they want, "Behind a show of friendship, behind the evidences of co-operation, in every field of life, the Dobuan believes that he has only treachery to expect" (171). The most treacherous, deceitful, and dishonest people are the leaders in this society.

In the very different Zuni and Dobu tribes there is a common theme. The Zuni culture concentrates on the well being of community as a whole. This idea seems to exclude the impact an individual may have on society. The Dobuan society is more self-concerned. When an entire people only care about himself or herself, what becomes of the whole?

Perhaps what Benedict is trying to assert is that culture and personality are not the same, nor are they different. A personality is shaped by the culture in which it is born into. A culture is shaped by the repeated ceremonies, traditions, beliefs, and ideals performed by the individuals in the community over time:

No individual can arrive at the threshold of his potentialities without a culture in which he participates. Conversely, no civilization has in it any element that the last analysis is not the contribution of an individual. Where else could any trait come from except from the behaviour of a man or a woman or a child? (253)

What Benedict is saying here is that an individual can never discover the depths of himself or herself without the scrutiny of a culture as a guideline. For if he has no culture, he has no way of measurement! Likewise, culture cannot exist if it does not reap from the actions and behavior of human beings. In other words, individual personality and culture cannot exist solely without another.

Culture and personality work together in unison in a process of giving-and-taking. According to Benedict, it is not important to stress what sets culture and individual apart. It is important to concentrate on what it is that brings them together, "It is always a give-and-take.



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