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Ruth Benedict's Relationship With Her Mother

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There are certain times in our lives when we look back at our life stories and reflect why we have become the person we are. It has become apparent that the mother daughter relationship plays an important role in determining who the daughter turns out to be as an adult. In the following stories about the life of Ruth Benedict, as well as two others written by Jamaica Kincaid and Andrea Lee, we will explore the mother daughter relationship, and just how much effect these mother's had on their daughter's adult personalities.

Ruth Benedicts experience as a child formed her into the

adult person she became. She was a very imaginative child, and

at a young age was able to make distinctions between two

different worlds, the world of her father "her world", and the world of her mother, the "other world". Ruth Benedict was born in 1887, her father was a doctor, and her mother was a teacher (Mintz 143). Her father passed away when she was twenty-one months old (Mead 97).

This is where Ruth decided that her life story began. She grew up in a single parent, extended family household. Benedict was born with full hearing, but became deaf after a case of the childhood measles (Mead 104). As a child Ruth also suffered from tantrums. These tantrums continued until her mother made her swear on the Bible that she would stop having them. They were replaced by a form of depression. Ruth was very obsessed with the idea of death, and thought of it as a beautiful and peaceful time, she also associated death with her father. Benedict used to lie in the hay and pretend that she was dead in her grave (Mean 101).

She also did not like to tell people what she was thinking about, especially if it was something of great importance that might hurt the other person, or cause the other person to interfere in "her world" (Mead 101). She was a brilliant young child who discovered at an early age that she did not need anyone to confide in, and that confiding in people about the things that were most important to her might cause those things to disappear (Mead 102). Benedict had two taboos in her life; not to cry in front of anyone, and not to show pain. She carried these taboos with her until after she married (Mead 105).

Ruth Benedict attended Vassar College where she attained a degree in English Literature, and decided to pursue a career in teaching (Mintz 143). She married Stanley Benedict when she

was twenty-six (Mintz 143). After marrying Stanley, Ruth Benedict decided to focus on becoming a good house wife, although she did try to get her essay on Mary Wollstonecraft published (Mintz 143).

She was able to get some of her poetry published. Ruth discovered that she was barren, and was forbidden by her husband to get the operation that she needed in order to have children. Benedict did not discover the field of anthropology until 1919 when she began taking classes at New School for Social Research (Mintz 143). She attained her Ph.D. in 1923 (Mintz 141). From then on she worked at Columbia University, but was not proclaimed a full professor until 1931 (Babock). Throughout her life Ruth Benedict was concerned about equality across racial and gender lines.

From day one Ruth Benedict was at odds with her mother. She did not identify with her mothers world. Ruth saw her mother

as being a predictable person, She was able to predict how her

mother would respond to certain things, like the mention of her

fathers name. Ruth did inherit some of her mother's characteristics. Every March Ruth's mother would mourn the loss of Ruth's father. Ruth's mother would weep in church and in bed at night (Mead 98). Ruth realized the effect that her mother's weeping had on her at a young age. "It always had the same effect on me, an excruciating misery with physical trembling of a peculiar involuntary kind which culminated periodically in rigidity like an orgasm (Mead 98)." It is my opinion that Ruth's hatred of her mother's grieving was what caused her to stick with her two taboos; not crying in front of others, and showing no reaction to pain. "Looking back on it, it seems likely enough that these tabus--they were mostly stringently required virtues--grew out of my primal scene too. They belonged to the half of the picture I repudiated, and to be guilty of these breaches was to ally myself to the "other" world (Mead 106)." The other world Benedict is referring to is the world of her mother. Ruth did not love her mother, and certainly did not appreciate the fact that her mother was so full of grief, pain and worries (Mead 99). Benedict stated that even after she was married, she did not

cry or show pain in front of her husband. Her mother also drove deep into her another trait. When Ruth's father died her mother begged her to remember his face. Ruth stated that, "Even now I feel I've been cheated or unfaithful if I can't see the dead face of a person I've loved (Mead 99)." Her mother also drove her to love books. Books and Ruth's imagination were her escape from the realm of her mother's grief. With a book Ruth could learn about other cultures, times, and places, and lose herself in her own world. Benedict's mother was a teacher, which also may have been the reason that Ruth strove to do so well in school. It was clear that the favorite was her domestically talented younger sister. Benedict's abilities in school might have been her way of gaining her mothers attention, and of being successful at something. Benedict's unhappiness, partially caused by her feelings of alienation from her mother, caused her to become a writer. Writing was one of Benedict's escapes from her unhappy childhood, and eventually from her unhappy marriage (Babock). "Expression is the only justification of life that I can feel without prodding. The greatest relief I know is to have put something into words (Babock)." Ruth's mother was not the only person in Ruth's family that had an impact on the woman that Ruth became.

The women in Ruth's family had an indirect impact on her as well. Ruth remembers washing the dishes and looking around at the other women in her family, and realizing the it was terrible that they were all so tired (Mead 106). This began the roots of feminist thought within Ruth's mind, seeing that at the end of the day the women were exhausted from doing domestic chores. When she could, Ruth liked to escape to be with her Grandfather, which allowed her to see that men and women were not considered



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