The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down

by

Anne Fadiman

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Sukey Waller Character Analysis

A psychologist who works at Merced Community Outreach Services. When Fadiman has trouble meeting and getting to know Hmong people, Bill Selvidge recommends that she talk to Sukey, whom he describes as one of the most well-respected non-Hmongs in Merced’s Hmong community. Sukey is fascinated by the Hmong people and intent upon finding the best way to serve them, since—because they don’t differentiate between physical and mental illnesses—they don’t believe in purely psychological problems. To the best of her ability, Sukey tries to understand the Hmong approach, attempting to help them on their own terms. She helps Fadiman by encouraging her to ignore the idea that she must perfectly follow Hmong customs in order to gain the trust and respect of her subjects; rather, she should find a translator who can serve as a “cultural broker.”

Sukey Waller Quotes in The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down

The The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down quotes below are all either spoken by Sukey Waller or refer to Sukey Waller. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Cultural Values, Spirituality, and Medicine  Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Farrar, Straus, and Giroux edition of The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down published in 2012.
Chapter 8 Quotes

Sukey’s business card read, in Hmong and Lao, “Fixer of Hearts.” She explained to me, “Psychological problems do not exist for the Hmong, because they do not distinguish between mental and physical illness. Everything is a spiritual problem. It’s not really possible to translate what I do into Hmong—a shaman is the closest person to a psychotherapist—but fixing hearts was the best metaphor I could find. […]” When I asked Sukey why the Hmong community accepted her so readily, she said, “The Hmong and I have a lot in common. I have an anarchist sub-personality. I don’t like coercion. I also believe that the long way around is often the shortest way from point A to point B. And I’m not very interested in what is generally called the truth. In my opinion, consensual reality is better than facts.”

Related Characters: Anne Fadiman (speaker), Sukey Waller
Page Number: 95
Explanation and Analysis:
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Sukey Waller Character Timeline in The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down

The timeline below shows where the character Sukey Waller appears in The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 8: Foua and Nao Kao
Cultural Values, Spirituality, and Medicine  Theme Icon
...answers using only one or two words. Luckily, her friend Bill Selvidge introduced her to Sukey Waller, a psychologist who worked with many Hmong patients. Sukey explained that her job depended... (full context)
Cultural Values, Spirituality, and Medicine  Theme Icon
Blame and Power Theme Icon
Integration and Assimilation Theme Icon
Sukey suggested that Fadiman find a good interpreter, or what she called a “cultural broker,” somebody... (full context)
Chapter 14: The Melting Pot
Cultural Values, Spirituality, and Medicine  Theme Icon
History and Ethnic Identity Theme Icon
Integration and Assimilation Theme Icon
Sukey Waller told Fadiman a story in which an old Hmong man asked, “Why, when what... (full context)
Chapter 18: The Life or the Soul
Cultural Values, Spirituality, and Medicine  Theme Icon
One night, Fadiman invited Bill Selvidge and Sukey Waller to dinner in the hopes of provoking an interesting conversation about the intersection of... (full context)