Nancy Scheper-Hughes, “Mother’s Love: Death without Weeping”

The description of the attitude towards infant mortality in Bom Jesus (Northern Brazil) is heart-breaking. I see it as an illustration of human adaptability, though not the happiest of such illustrations. Some cultures find a mother’s love to be so strong that it cannot be affected by anything. A real mother would never let her children die without a fight. This attitude separates mothers from regular people in a way. It is important to remember that  mothers are human beings first, like the rest of us. The quality of human life depends largely upon factors that are beyond the control of a given person, or even society. Resources may be the most important of these factors, and even a mother’s love is subject to the availability of resources in her society. Over time a society that simply doesn’t have sufficient resources must adapt its worldview to its situation. The town of Bom Jesus is an example of this phenomenon. What we may perceive as indifference towards infant death on their part is not accurate, it is simply evidence of a radically different perspective of life and reality that is forced on a society. 

In a sense, they have adapted a positive attitude towards what they call “child attack.” They could resort to despair,  but they have instead concluded to let be what is. It is a realistic approach. It is unfortunate, but it keeps hope alive. What else can be expected?

Poverty can be seen as the ultimate attack on humanity. The term attack seems to imply that there is someone or something that is out to get us. I’m not sure that is the case. It seems to me more like a fact of nature. This planet has a certain amount of resources that humans need to strive that is not enough to support the amount of human needs that exist, at least in the way that we have organized ourselves across the globe. As long as there is poverty, there will be civil unrest. People will be forced to live in unhealthy environments, or they will fight for stability. Peace is a result of stability and fulfilled needs, and these things should be at the center of our focus.

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1 Response to “Nancy Scheper-Hughes, “Mother’s Love: Death without Weeping””


  1. 1 Kyra Gaunt April 18, 2009 at 9:51 pm

    This phrase: “even a mother’s love is subject to the availability of resources in her society.” EXCELLENT!!! You win best blog entry for this chapter! You apply concept of adaptability beautifully. Your prose highlights the irony of their predicament. They love their children and they let them go.


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