Ellen Herman

Department of History, University of Oregon


Reading and Discussion Questions
Margaret Mead, Coming of Age in Samoa

1. What was the purpose of Mead’s research? What was her theory about the “cause” of adolescent crises? What kind of evidence did she provide? What does this book tell us about the culture concept?

2. Why did she call her field work in Samoa an “experiment” in human development?

3. What was American adolescence like, as Mead saw it in the 1920s? Was adolescence the same the world over? How did she expect it to differ from one society to another?

4. Describe Mead’s study. Who did she study? Where? For how long? With what methods? Do you know how old Margaret Mead was when she conducted this study? Do you think that either her age or her gender was significant in relation to her study? Would Mead have argued that her results could be confirmed by any anthropologist conducting the same study?

5. What was the interest every adolescent girl in Samoa had beyond all others? What were some of their commonest activities? Mead mentioned three types of formally recognized sex relations, including marriage, and three types of sexual relations between unmarried people. What was the significance of the surreptitious rape (moetotolo)? What were the social repercussions of this kind of interaction for girls/women? What were the repercussions for boys/men?

6. What is Mead’s argument about the difference between sex for adolescent Samoan and American girls?

7. Mead explains the implications of her Samoa study for American society in chapter 13. What were they? What “solutions” did she propose?