Bernstein, Richard. "Samoa: A Paradise Lost?" New York Times, 24 April 1983, pp. 48ff.
A Times newsman here contributes a bit more to the nature- nurture controversy currently
centering on the work of Margaret Mead as that work has been attacked by Derek Freeman. This
article is really a side issue to that controversy about methods and about unconscious
assumptions. Bernstein wants to suggest that Mead may have been guilty of being committed not
to assumptions about the significance of culture, but committed to illusions about the beautiful
South Seas. There was a time when the West longed for the simpler life and searched for Eden.
Some Westerners - including Henry Adams and Robert Louis Stevenson - thought they might
have found it in Samoa. It could be that Mead, working in the 1920s on the islands, saw an
idyllic life she was encouraged to see, not by Boas, but by the myth of the Noble Savage.
Bernstein does suggest that the Samoa of the 1920s was vastly different from the Samoa of the
1940s which was the one that Freeman studied. Just so, the Samoa of the 1980s is vastly different
from that island in the 1940s. The author goes on to describe some of the changes which have
occurred and to specify some of the social indexes which allow him to paint a portrait of Samoa
which is anomic, to say the least. These indexes are: a very high suicide rate, a very high
emigration rate, unemployment, and overeducation. This is not a picture of paradise. This is the
Samoa which Bernstein visited in writing this particular piece.
In terms of the Mead-Freeman controversy, this is an addition to the idea that Mead was biased.
The suggestion that Mead might have had a Romantic Myth rather than a Boasean Myth is
possible. In any case, I cannot think of a single book in the last twenty years that has had this
kind of prepublication publicity.