The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down


Anne Fadiman

Teachers and parents! Our Teacher Edition on The Spirit Catches You makes teaching easy.

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: Chapter 19 Summary & Analysis

Fadiman describes a healing ceremony for Lia that she attended at the Lees’ apartment in Merced. Although Foua and Nao Kao believed that their daughter’s soul was most likely irretrievable—and although they had already held multiple ceremonies and sacrifices—they wanted to continue having txiv neebs preside over Lia, hoping that they might, at the very least, be able to make her happier and more comfortable.
Through their continued care of Lia, it becomes evident that Nao Kao and Foua’s devotion to their daughter is unending, a touching sentiment that not only speaks to their kindness as parents, but also reinforces Fadiman’s earlier characterization of Hmong resilience: when faced with what seems a lifetime of challenge, the Hmong do not give up.
Cultural Values, Spirituality, and Medicine  Theme Icon
History and Ethnic Identity Theme Icon
Fadiman was surprised to find that the txiv neeb was a small man who watched TV and drank Budweiser. She notes the “uphill battle” the Lees faced in converting their apartment—with its humming refrigerator and fluttering TV screen—into a tranquil, spiritual atmosphere. Nonetheless, when she came back inside after watching the family sacrifice a pig in the parking lot, the room’s atmosphere had changed. The TV was off, a candle had been lit, and the txiv neeb had shed the relatively Americanized demeanor he had exhibited when Fadiman first arrived. Later, as this shaman convulsed and chanted on a wooden bench that represented a winged horse, one of Lia’s cousins stood looking out the door, surveying Merced’s East 12th Street, chanting, Where are you? Where have you gone?—calling Lia’s soul homeward.
This scene shows the extent to which the Lees collided with American culture. Although they themselves may have appeared unchanged and unwilling to assimilate, their apartment indicated otherwise. Nonetheless, they remained admirably capable of retaining their Hmong spirituality, accessing a sense of remote holiness even while being so far away for so long.
Cultural Values, Spirituality, and Medicine  Theme Icon
Integration and Assimilation Theme Icon