You are on page 1of 2

lays

Runaway
By MARK VAN DOREN
I saw a white-haired child
Go through the sunny grass;
I heard the under-noises
Stop to let him pass ;
Deciding then that never
A thing so silent was

As this white head in the wheat


Upon this windless day,
Moving as if all childhood
Marched with it awayLeaving UB our wisdom
And nothing a t all to say.

This Week

Sex in the South Seas

OMEWHERE in each of us, hidden among our more


obscure desires and our impulses of escape, is a palm-

fringedSouth Seaisland that looks verylikethe


pictureonthe
butchers calendar-sea, sand, sun, a languorous atmosph,ere promising freedom and irresponsibility.
It is to that island that we retire when we grow bored and
confused by jobs o r politicalcampaigns or city life ormore particularly-with
husbands, wives, o r children.
Thither we run to escape conflicting standards, the difficulties of a n age without faith; to
find love which is free,
easy, andsatisfying.
When you fead Coming of Age in Samoa+-asyou
should do-you will probably be astonished to discover how
like a South Sea island that South Sea island can be. Sea,
sand, sun-all are there, and simplicity and absence of conflict. It is a world inwhichlife is gayandchildrenase
not very troublesome and love is kind and uncomplicated;
wherefoodand
clothes arefewandeasyto
get. Sex
experience is frequent before marriage, almost to the point
of promiscuity.Jealousyis
rare. Violent and possessive
emotion is held to be in poor taste, but frigidity does not
exist.Theroutine
of life is simple,quiet, andunhurried.
Margaret Mead, the author of this book, spenteight
months in the island of Taii in the Manua Archipelago of
Samoa studying the psychology of the adolescent girl. She
lived for much of the time as an adopteddaughterin
a
Samoan household and became intimately acquainted with
the behavior andfeelings of a group of girls in asocial
structure fundamentally
different
from
our
own. She
wished to discover whether the Samoan adolescent was subjecttothe
mentaldisturbances which are considered in
Western civilizations the inevitableconcomitant
of the
physicalchanges of puberty.Shefound
thatthe young
girls in that particular island group live through no period
of stress.They
experience love fromthetimetheyare
physicallyandmentally ready for it.They
swallow, without pain or ecstasy, a pleasantly diluted dom of the Chris-

tian religion. They assume adult


family responsibilities as
a matter of course. The Western conception of the family
unit composedof
father, mother, andchildren does not
exist.Instead,children
arebrought up inrather casual,
shifting congeries of relativeslivingtogether.
single
passionateparent-childrelationship
has an opportunity to
spring up. Everyadultinthe
household is more o r less
in loco parentis to every child. The olderchildren
are
shouldered with the actual care of the younger ones.
Thus the Samoan girl
leadsabusy, unconscious existence in which impulse and duty appear to play pleasantly
correlative roles. Her life as well as her environmentapparently fits the fantasy that hasbecome a symbol of relaxation and release to the harried child of the machine-made
West. Would we then exchange our unsatisfied desires and
complicated choices for hermore even progress in the world?
Probably not. On closer inspection
several
flaws appear in that picture
of warm, idyllic simplicity.The discrepancies between fantasy and fact lie at the very heart of
Samoan sex freedom. Inthefirst
place personalityand
individual differences, the objects of such tender consideration in most Western lands, are ignored-both publicly
and privately.Skill
is admired;but precocity is frowned
upon. Inthefamily
children have no opportunityeither
t o become spoiled or to feel neglected and misunderstood;
they are simplymembers of a groupwithcertainfunctions to perform.
Only in the dance do virtuosity and individualpeculiarities win applause. Humanrelationships
a r e formalized and depend little on the appeal of one personality for another. Boys and girls are so severelyseparated before puberty that a keen antagonism-not personal
but sexual-develops and continues until it melts inthe
warmth of adolescent desire-again not personal but sexual. Love is expressed in the formulae of romantic attachment; but a deeply personal feeling between a man and a
woman haslittle chanceto flower. The whole basisfor
emotional intensity is lacking. Fidelity is treated with
humor; jealousywithcontempt.
Even close friendships
based on personal preference are absent.
A Samoan philosopher might maintain that a balanced
emotional life
either
in adolescence o r after can be
achieved only through freedom from the strain that arises
whenindividuals stresstheimportance
of their personal
feelingsandpreferencesandabilities.Emotionscanbe
freely expressed only when they are not intense; with
intensity come conflict and jealousy and a frequent inability
to express anythingat all. George A. Dorsey,biologist
and author of WhyWeBehave Like Human Beings, is
quoted on the jacket of Miss Meads book as wondering if
we shall ever be as sensible about sex as the Samoans are.
Miss Mead herself is less sweeping. She believes that
children inWesterncountries
should be loosed fromthe
entanglements of toointenseparental
love. Butshe expresses a reasonable and
civilized doubt of the Samoan attitudetowardpersonalityandtowardadult
emotions. If
love can be freed from conflict and life made simple only
at the price of our cherished personal relationships, who of
us is ready to pay it? Let Ms. Dorsey set out for Samoa
if he will. Most of us probably will read Miss Meads
impressivestudyandthen
continue as before to cling to
our difficulties andourdelights,with
occasional impulses
of escape to the expensive simplicity of the South Seas.