Different Cultures, Different Interpretations Essay, Research Paper
Every society and culture has different ways of interpreting and defining occurrences by the way their own culture or society functions. A society s culture, consists of whatever it is one has to know or believe in order to operate in a manner acceptable to its members (Geertz 242). The rituals, customs, ethics and morals that are attributed to the cultures have caused these differences. To understand how the people of one culture interpret a situation or event, one must evaluate the attributes that a culture has. The criteria that an event is based on changes as one culture applies their own ideas to the given situation. Heroism and violation are two concepts that are easily misinterpreted depending on culture s ideals. Since cultures have different attributes it is impossible for two cultures to exist and share a view of a situation or event.
Heroism and violation are two concepts that are addressed by Geertz in his relating of Ryle s story of the sheep raid. From the different cultures involved, two different interpretations are concluded. To the protagonist, Cohen, and the perpetrators of the crime, his raid on the Berbers was seen as heroism. Cohen risking his life for his redemption of crime that was committed against him is viewed as heroic. On the contrary, when Cohen returned to his French counterparts, they saw his redemption as a violation of the Berbers, and accused him of being a spy:
Here, in our text, such sorting would begin with distinguishing the
three unlike frames of interpretation ingredient in the situation,
Jewish, Berber, and French, and would then move on to show how (and
why) at that time, in that place, their copresence produced a
situation in which systematic misunderstanding reduced traditional
form to social farce. What tripped Cohen up, and with him the whole,
ancient pattern of social and economic relationships within which he
functioned, was a confusion of tongues. (Geertz 241)
Geertz explains that the reason for the confusion, and the different interpretations of the event that took place is a simple misunderstanding that when took place in clashing cultures with different views, both striving to claim the situation in their own contexts became a somewhat humorous event. This conflict between cultures causes a view of a person to change depending on which point of reference they are being seen from.
In Ernest Hemingway s Indian Camp, the conflict between cultures again cause a difference of views of the father. The concept of heroism and violation becomes the issue of conflict. The father or doctor is considered a hero or a violator of the Indian woman depending on the culture viewing him. From the father s culture, he is viewed as a hero for his actions at the Indian camp. His actions are viewed as heroic under the circumstances of his procedure. Because of the culture of the Indian people, having a white man, an outsider of the tribe, come in and operate on an Indian woman is viewed as obscene and a violation of the woman not to have her baby on her own. She had been trying to have her baby for two days. All the old women in the camp had been helping her (Hemingway 16). Because the Indian woman had been trying to have her baby for the last two days with the help of the other Indian women, it shows the Indians reluctance to call for help outside of the camp itself. Uncle George looked at his arm. The young Indian smiled reminiscently (Hemingway 18). During the operation, the young Indian woman bit the arm of uncle George. Her smiling conveys her lack of appreciation for his help during the procedure. The Indian woman feels that, what the uncle George and the doctor perceive as help, is an intrusion of her privacy and her privilege to have her baby with out the assistance of anyone else. These two different groups of people because of the cultures to which each one belongs cannot share this situation. The question of whether the doctor is a hero in the story or whether he has violated the woman and her culture is a problem that arrives, and that has two answers, depending on which culture defines the situation.
Both examples, the sheep raid and the birth of the Indian baby, show how two cultures can have two totally different views of a single situation. In the sheep raid as well as the Indian birth, heroism and violation become the two views held by the cultures involved. The father and Cohen become viewed as hero and as a violator depending on which culture is interpreting the event. As these two cultures attempt to understand what has taken place during the episode, which had occurred, they view the situation in the context of their own way of life. In both stories two cultures view the same situation, but because they view it through the context of their own culture, the event s significance cannot exist simultaneously with the same meaning between the two cultures.
Because of culture s different morals, ethics, and the way the people behave to belong to certain culture, the observation of events when viewed through these unique attributes of the culture become unique to the culture itself. Therefore, when the same event is viewed through the unique characteristics of another culture, the event s significance will embody a completely different meaning, which will be special to that culture and that culture alone. This is why it is impossible for a single event to exist to two different cultures at the same time because to each individual culture the event is not the same.
Geertz, Clifford. Thick Description. A Cultural Studies Reader. Eds. Munna & Rajan.
London: Longman, 1995. 236-256
Hemingway, Ernest. In Our Time. New York, New York: Scribners, 1925. 15-19.