English 456: C20 Criticism and Theory

Questions on Claude Levi-Strauss' Tristes Tropiques

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1. What is Levi-Strauss' stated purpose in undertaking the Brazilian expedition he describes?

2. What does the Chief of the Nambikwara subgroup Levi-Strauss visits comprehend about writing that his subject do not? What effects does the introduction of writing and the Chief's subsequent behavior have on his subjects?

3. What inferences about the role of writing does Levi-Strauss draw from his observation of the Chief? Why can't we use the existence of writing to establish the opposition between civilized/uncivilized people? How is the story about the chief a story about the origin or at least the development of writing?

4. What implications do Levi-Strauss' observations about writing have for the study of literature as a sub-species of language? What might be the purpose of literature if Levi-Strauss is correct in his suggestion that writing is linked to the maintenance of political power and rank?

5. How does Levi-Strauss' argument about the purpose of writing run counter to the usual assumption that literacy and democracy advance together?

6. On 1425, Levi-Strauss mentions his wife for the first time in our selection. What is the narratival advantage of minimizing the presence of other Western visitors, and making it seem as if he were alone among the Nambikwara?

7. In describing the Nambikwara, to what extent does Levi-Strauss promote the "myth of the noble savage"? Do you find his picture of the Nambikwara contradictory or consistent? Explain.

Edition: The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: Norton, 2001. ISBN: 0393974294.