Mark Wallace approach ethnography as a qualitative technique that is concerned with the understanding and learning of cultural phenomena, which are shown in knowledge and system that guide the life of a cultural group. Ethnography is centered in the studies of ethnic groups, ethnic genesis, people, composition, settlement, social welfare, and composition. Therefore, it remains crucial in analyzing human societies and cultures. In fact, scholars have argued that ethnography is aimed at describing the nature and characteristics of the people under study.
The novel, the Quarry and the Lot, is centered on three friends; Luke, Nick and Amelia. They returned to their homeland to attend a funeral of their childhood friend, Joseph Klein. On the contrary, the deceased took a different life dimension that made him reckless and ruthless, though he was brought up as a decent and humble boy. Joseph took a different culture in life that was different from that of his friends. Evidently, the people who attended his funeral were not sorry about his death (Wallace 94). There were mixed reactions and emotions during the funeral since the deceased’s ways of life could not be compared to his age mates and friends. Joseph grew up in Texas, and it was very difficult to understand what made him choose the most controversial way of life. He was perceived by many people as ruthless, destructive and bully, a subculture he admired. This kind of a subculture was not in conformity with the normal societal values, which advocates for the proper upbringing of children. The children are expected to grow up respectfully.
However, these unaccepted behavior that Joseph adored brought him a lot of happiness. Unfortunately, the bad behavior led to his tragic death at the tender age of thirty two. Perhaps, it is the bad character that does not conform to the societal norms and values that makes him as a character in the novel fades quickly as the novel continues (Wallace 19).
In the novel, there are some subcultures that were clearly not accepted in the society. For example, prostitution and homosexuality that eroded the moral principles of the society. Notably, these bad sub-cultural practices emerged and continued to flourish in the society. An important question to ask is the availability of the custodians and moral guidance when immoral acts of prostitution and homosexuality emerged and slowly became acceptable in the society.
The fact that the disciplines of religion and sociology were taken for granted for many years, until the nineteenth century shows a lot of contrast between the two groups of people; those who lived before and after the nineteenth century. Studies show that those people who lived before the nineteenth century were perceived as rigid about morality. They advocated for harsh sanctions, heavy punishments and penalty to discourage immoral acts on the society. The heavy punishments and sanctions would help the society maintain its identity that was morally and ethically sound. During this period, it was not easy to get someone who could come out to confess about having been in same gender relationships, and having committed acts of prostitution. However, in some modern societies, acts such as gay marriages and abortion are allowed to take place. Due to the issues of cultural relativism, it is hard to tell precisely the moral acts since the concept moral is relative; depending on place, time and the population characteristics.
In the novel, the narrator’s grandfather learnt from the jaguar experience in Mexico that some things were beyond human understanding. He compares the jaguar incidence to men’s behavior in Texas, which is after a night of gambling and drinking. These activities made men behave violently without any apparent reason. The situation was different in Mexico, where the jaguar, though hungry and in danger, it did not engage men in violence. Instead, it slipped away in the morning. This made the narrator understand that mystery was a real phenomenon. Just like the narrator’s grand father’s failure to understand why the jaguar landed on his roof top, the narrator could as well not understand the mystery behind the death of his friend, Joseph (Wallace 68).
In the novel, the narrator tries to explain why the men failed to kill the jaguar since it is not culturally accepted to kill animals without proper reasons. However, the situation is different in Texas, where boys like torturing animals owing to their poor and cruel upbringing. This sub-theme clearly shows the disparity and cultural differences of the people of Texas and Mexico.
In chapter one of the novel, the author makes a comparison between two cultures. In Texas, the narrator receives a phone call from his son, informing him about the death of Joseph, Klein. At the beginning, it is not clear to the narrator and his wife about who has actually made the call. To them, this incidence is quite different from the Jaguar’s. In the Jaguar’s incidence, the grandfather never wanted someone to make a call because he did not want anybody to know about that scary incidence. In a way, this showed how the grand father was cultured in an environment where the information secrecy was highly valued (Wallace 86).
In addition, the arrival of the narrator’s grandfather in Mexico brings another sharp contrast between the two cultures that is American and Mexican. In America, the narrator’s grandfather was considered as a small town doctor, in the United States, but the situation was different in Mexico. In Mexico, he was highly respected, amongst the poor and the rich. This shows the culture and identity of the Mexican who are portrayed in the novel as loving and welcoming. Here, the rich do not despise the poor, as evidenced with the grandfather’s welcome.
Evidently, the narrator portrays the sub-culture that is propagated by the jaguar as outlawed groups, which engaged in careless consumption of alcohol and other drinks. Besides, the group engages in listening terror-themed rap music that promotes acts of hooligans and crime in the society. In fact, such music is not descent t listened to since they are sources of immoral acts and bad behavior among the youth in the society. This kind of outlawed cultures forms the foundation of hostility in the society. For instance, Joseph’s brother appreciated their humble background and lifestyle. However, Joseph succumbed to an alien sub-culture when he refused to accommodate the laughter and mockery of his fellow students when they were at school. He saw this as an embarrassment since he never wanted to accept that he was from a poor family. From this analysis, it can be deduced that poverty was never welcomed in this sub-culture, and the poor were often looked down upon. This is contrary to what we saw in Mexico, where both the rich and the poor were friendly, loving and lived alongside each other in peace (Wallace 69).
Moreover, it is clear, from the analysis of the novel that economic status dictates the culture of the people. For instance, in American sub-culture, the rich did not easily welcome Joseph’s grandfather, who was seen as small village doctor. But, in Mexico, the situation was different, since the majority is the middle and low income earners; people can easily cope up with one another and live in a peaceful co-existence. Besides, the economic inequality is evidenced in the media houses, which associate crime with music that is produced by psychopathic records, famous among the poor and the middle class. For instance, Joseph and other juggalas who are from the low income families found themselves on the wrong side of the law when they were unfairly persecuted because of their cultural way of dress code, music listened to and their eating habits, which were regarded by the rich as unethical and lack decency.
It is interesting to note the way the sub-cultures in the novel are portrayed and how different generations perceive various cultures. For example, fifty years ago, homosexuality was considered as a criminal offense. The homosexuals and lesbians could not come out and openly declare their intentions and marital status. But, currently the culture is accepted in some societies, and there are some cases of gay marriages, even in churches. Arguably, this kind of culture is common in the urban settings (Wallace 19).
It is debatable to ask oneself, why the same societies that promote moral degradation and decadence are the ones who pioneer scientific and technological development. A society that is not morally responsible for its action can make its people perish. For example, the use of technological and scientific knowledge to manufacture nuclear weapons and drugs can lead to mass destruction and loss of lives, if the society is not responsible and accountable for its actions. Currently, the lesbians and gays make use of the social network sites to carry out their activities. Before, these activities were considered as cultural taboos and no one could easily declare such status in public. Immoral acts such as pornography were unheard of, and could not be allowed to take place in the traditional society where culture was highly valued.
Various questions have been raised on the fate of homosexuality why it started and its effects on people’s lives living during that time, and why there is no much literature on the same. Possibly, the societal culture did not permit such texts to be openly discussed. Could be the male dominance and chauvinism never allowed some issues to be publicly discussed; especially the women were not permitted by their male counterparts to discuss issues about men. In fact, in the past, writings on gay and lesbianism were considered immoral and unlawful since such texts could easily land someone in jail (Wallace 59).
The war against homosexual sub-culture started around the eighteenth century. By then, the population that practiced the homosexual sub-culture was smaller than the current one. In fact, there were no polices, which were put in place to promote the practice of the homosexuality. But, still the practice went against all odds and it became paramount in the society, despite the strong opposition from the government and the society. From the novel, a special police force known as the Mouches was established to eliminate the homosexual culture. This special police force who pretended to be lesbians failed to expel the homosexual sub-culture that had grown into a strong force. According to the analysis from the novel, it is that a subculture though accepted and followed by only a few people can grow into a strong force that is not easy to get rid of in the society. This is evident with the case of the homosexuals, who were just a handful people, but still remained a big threat to the society. This group that formed the subculture was hard to eliminate in the society, even the state machinery, which is the special police force could not contain this group of people. The legislative policies and state ideologies also failed to contain the homosexual subculture. Therefore, one would ask whether there is a possibility of containing that subculture in the society. But, before that it is important to analyze some of the social effects of such subcultures in the society. What would happen if the society members accept and embrace the subculture of homosexual and lesbianism? To some extent, the narrator of the story was trying to say that the society has failed to contain the subcultures, which were considered immoral such as homosexuality and lesbianism. Though, there is still some glimmer of hope since the society and the government is making all the possible attempts to discourage such subculture.
Amerilia, a female character in the novel, fell a victim to sexual abuse and harassment from her father and brothers (Wallace 76). This clearly shows that that par1ticular society does not respect women’s dignity and personal privacy that infringe their rights. Besides, it is clear from the novel that the society does not respect the institution of marriage. On the other hand, the fathers have failed in their parenting role (Wallace 32). The women do not have a voice to be heard in this society since Amerila’s mother does not come out strongly in the novel to condemn the acts of sexual abuse and harassment to her daughter. The society failed to define appropriate punishments for such offenses. In away, it can be deduced that the society is compromising a lot on some behavior, which are eventually accepted as a societal norm.
Another worrying subculture that is evident from the readings is abortion, which comes as a result of prostitution. The prostitution is prevalent in the urban areas, where people from different cultures meet and often make casual intimate relationships. Little or no marriages are taking place in these relationships, which result in unwanted pregnancies. From the novel, this is portrayed as lack of respect for life and the unborn. In the past, acts of abortion were highly condemned in the society, and one found committing such acts were either excommunicated or killed to serve as a warning to the others. But, currently the situation is different since laws have been put in place to legalize abortion. Despite the advantages of the abortion, it is evidenced that the societal morals are eroding very fast.
Festivals remain one of the pillars of the subculture. Several occasions were set to perform ceremonies, which marked some specific events in the society such as harvesting ceremonies, naming ceremonies, religious ceremonies and others. For example, marriage ceremonies ushered the couples into a permanent union and start of a new life. During such occasions, people gathered as a sign of unity in the society. However, things are different these days. The ceremonies have been commercialized and lost meaning. In fact, the society has become disunited. Often, politicians attend ceremonies and gatherings just to pursue their own personal interests and ambitions to gain power. Notably, these are some of the sub-cultural aspects, which are highlighted in the novel (Wallace 78).
In sum, from the novel’s settings, Wallace portrays a community a society that greatly relied on locally produced foods and drinks. For example, the fermented drinks were highly valued at that time. However, after the industrial revolution, people’s tastes and consumption patterns shifted from the locally produced products to the industrial ones. And this was seen in the lifestyle shift of Juggalo and his friends who often consumed cheap soft drinks as discussed earlier. This clearly shows how the society cultures of the past are rapidly changing.
Indeed, Wallace is overwhelmed by the American sub-urban cultural setting that supports conventional individualism and selfishness. The main emphasis from the novel is that culture should be a unifying factor in the society. Culture should unite both the rich and the poor in the society so that there is a sense of harmony and belonging. Without unity, it is very hard to promote culture in the society. Consequently, the absence of a very strong culture in the society breeds the elements of sub-cultures, which lack proper moral principles and doctrines that finally led to the society’s moral degradation.