Body Ritual Among the Nacirema | Study Guide

Horace Mitchell Miner

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Body Ritual Among the Nacirema | Symbols



In the essay the Nacirema keep charms in a chest within a shrine that acts as a focal point for the room. Charms represent medicine and have magical qualities for the Nacirema people. In fact, the charms are so important that the Nacirema often hoard them—to the point that their chests are bursting and people can't remember what maladies the charms are supposed to address. The people exchange gifts for the charms, and those who are financially or socially better off can afford more. Charms serve as a symbol not only for medicine, but for Americans' obsession with finding and paying for remedies for every little malady. This speaks to the culture's fear of illness (real or imagined) and to the people's belief in the "magic" of the medicine men to cure their ills.


The Nacirema people rely on magic to cure them and counteract their ugliness. The people they entrust with their body's care are magic practitioners (medicine men, holy-mouth-men) who rely on charms and rituals to heal. Magic is sacred in the culture, being practiced in shrines (bathrooms) and temples (hospitals), where the supernatural is conjured for healing that is often painful. Horace Mitchell Miner quotes Bronislaw Malinowski in stating that, while more-civilized cultures (presumably the readers' culture) view magic as crude, it has been a necessary part of the development of cultures. There is situational irony here, since the readers are likely members of American culture, which the essay satirizes. Magic, therefore, seems to represent the less-civilized aspects of American society, such as focus on the body.

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