The Spirit Catches You And You Fall Down Summary

Cultural values, social, norms, social standards, and religious beliefs are some of the factors that help people of different regions to manage their lives in a certain manner. In other words, it would not be wrong to say that such factors influence people and their lives, both in a direct and indirect manner as well.

About Book :

The same is the case in the book named “The Spirit Catches you and you fall down,” written by Anne Fadiman. Within the book, the author has tried to show the disturbing link between Hmong cultural beliefs with the modern medical profession in America. In a broader sense, the story is all about a confrontation between beliefs that are deeply rooted in ancient Hmong culture and the contemporary field of medicine in America.

The spirit catches you and you fall down summary:

The story is about a three months old girl, Lia Lee, facing the issue of epilepsy, as her first attack. Yer, as the older sister of Lee, once slammed a door so hard that caused so much noise leading towards fleeing of Lia Lee’s soul, as her parents Foua and Nao Kao identified the reason behind the sickness of Lia Lee.

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In Hmong culture, there is a saying that is quag dab peg which means “the spirit catches you and you fall down.” This is the point where the story got its name and it is the point where a confrontation between American doctors and parents of Lia Lee started. In fact, it would not be wrong to say that Fadiman observed all aspects of the overwhelming condition, whereas offering readers a challenge to deeply examine two different notions following the medical condition of Lia Lee, including spirituality and medicine.

Within the story, the author has linked Hmong culture, religion, and its history with the medical data of Lia Lee, in the form of alternative chapters. In reality, Fadiman has tried to combine the tragedy of a family with the overall existence and significance of Hmong cultural values and standards and, therefore, the story offers complete satisfaction to its readers.Nao Kao and Foua Lee are portrayed as immigrants who lived in California and born in Merced, in 1982.

In the first place, Lia Lee was a healthy child like other children who born in the United States at the same time. Parents of Lia Lee took her to the Merced Community Medical Center, but the doctors at the hospital failed to diagnose the actual cause behind Lia’s epilepsy and they identified Lia with a bronchial infection.

However, in addition to the medical treatment of Lia, her parents identified the actual illness of Lia more effectively and they claimed Lia as having quag dab peg which means “the spirit catches you and you fall down.” In a broader sense, Lia’s parents claimed that the door slamming has frightened Lia so badly that her soul left her body and got lost.

In its place of having a certain belief, Lia’s parents also had confused emotions regarding the medical condition of Lia, especially because of the fact that not only in Hmong culture but in many other cultures, people are more likely to believe that epilepsy is linked with spiritual powers that are special in nature.

The story further reveals that Lia also agonized with more than twenty attacks and until the age of four and a half years, Lia visited emergency or pediatric clinics more than one hundred times. The falling condition of Lia caused great tension between doctors and parents of Lia, especially when it comes to proper means of communication.

In other words, American doctors are more likely to believe in modern technology and they did so in the case of Lia but failed to identify the actual illness of Lia and it turned as a history in the medical field of the United States.


Medical professionals of the hospitals and even those who treated Lia as a patient were unable to properly diagnosed Lia’s medical conditions. While, on the other hand, parents of Lia were more likely to force doctors to understand the saying quag dab peg which means “the spirit catches you and you fall down.”

However, the cross-cultural issue due to which Lia’s parents failed to properly communicate with doctors, resulted in chaos just because Lia’s parents were unable to convey the actual meaning of their Hmong claim quag dab peg which means “the spirit catches you and you fall down.”

Issues Values:

Therefore, the involvement of the Hmong culture within the story of Lia is the way of describing issues of the medical field, as the author has tried to claim. The story tells the fact that medical treatment sometimes fails or become ineffective to treat the patient due to many overwhelming factors among which culture understanding of knowing the belief system of other culture is a major factor.

The author also shows readers that culture imposes a very significant influence on the lives of people when it comes to linking someone’s life with a specific cultural belief. Medical professionals deal with their patients according to their medical knowledge and limit of using medical technology, in the first place.

Cultural Differences:

But as written in the story, at first, doctors failed to even diagnose Lia’s medical conditions just because they were examining Lia like other medical patients.

But in fact, the case of Lia is a clear portrait of a cultural belief due to which people hold different opinions about life and death, about body and soul, and about reality and myth, and about spirituality and medical approach.


Therefore, the story of “the spirit catches you and you fall down” is a clear indication of the fact that there is another side of the life of a patient and that side is linked with the belief system of a specific culture.

Also, through the story, the author has tried to force its readers to incorporate cultural importance within the medical field so that medical situations of patients can be diagnosed and treated in an effective manner, leading towards an improved form of patient’s medical treatment while having an eye of the cultural aspects of the patients’ family.

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