- PowerScore Staff
- Posts: 7689
- Joined: Feb 02, 2011
This passage deals with a book called Nisa: The Life and Words of a !Kung Woman, by Marjorie Shostak. In spite of ethnographers’ standard focus on more general and anonymous themes, this book blends three narrative strands: the first is the autobiography of a Botswanan 50-year old woman of the !Kung hunter-gatherers, the second casts the main character as a metaphor for all women, and the third is an encounter between ethnographer and subject.
When describing the main character’s personality, the author corrects certain oversimplified perspectives from the West, quoting Michel Leiris’ sentiment that it can be easy to see people as happy since that makes for a nicer picture. While it is nice to see an enlightened maternal figure living an uncomplicated life, the truth includes a character who has lost a husband and four children, and witnessed fights over food and sibling rivalries.
Nisa’s autobiography addresses the author’s exploration in the work of what it means to be a woman. The author of the passage notes that most ethnographic work omits women’s perspective on women, referring to this realization as a “salutary shock,” a surprising contrast to the unfortunate standard.
The final paragraph deals with the relationship between the author and the subject. Nisa has a distinct voice but the narrative, the author says, is obviously the product of collaboration, with the Western author shaping the subject’s life into a clear story, from “a seemingly featureless background.”
The Viewpoints presented in this passage are those of the author of the passage, of Shostak, and of Nisa.
The Structure of the passage is as follows:
- Paragraph 1: Introduce the book that is the subject of the passage, whose author, Marjorie Shostak, departs from the standard ethnographer approach, and note the three narratives that are interwoven in the work.
Paragraph 2: Note the correction of a tempting Western tendency to oversimplify and idealize the life of such a character, and that the true story is not entirely ideal.
Paragraph 3: Point out that the book provides a welcome departure from the tendency of most ethnographic works to omit women’s perspectives on women.
Paragraph 4: Discuss the relationship between Shostak and her subject, and how the author uses a Western approach to weave an amorphous life into a story of recognizable shape.
The Main Point of the passage is to describe Shostak’s approach to writing about Nisa, and the several narrative strands that make up a work that is unidealized, deals with universal women’s issues from women’s perspective, and brings a Western approach to weaving together the narrative tale.