Review of The Unadjusted Girl by William I. Thomas

Kimball Young

ТHE UNADJUSTED GIRL. Ву William I. Thomas with a Foreword by Mrs. W. F. Dummer. Criminal Science Monograph No, 4. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1423, xvii, 261 pp. $3.00.

It is not until recently that the standpoint in social psychology for which Mr. Thomas has long contended has begun to be accepted. It was he, then professor of sociology at Chicago, who nearly fifteen years ago began formulating the study of human behavior in social environment in terms of attitudes and habit patterns. Moreover, he was one of the first Americans, next to Stanley Hall, to recognize early the important meaning for the social sciences of the work of Freud with whom he had come in contact during his research on the Polish peasant in Europe. On the basis of extended studies of the negro, the Jew and especially of the Polish peasant, Thomas formulated a scheme of wishes in the individual which seemed to him to be fundamental, at least, to social behavior. These are the wish for security, safety and conservation of the old and tried; the wish for novelty, for escape from ennui; the wish for recognition from others, the desire for prestige; lastly the wish for intimate face-to-face response, the desire for love mates or comrades. This list is purely tentative and serves simply as a convenient set of labels to identify a mass of attitudes and the behavior connected therewith.

In the present volume Mr. Thomas has given perhaps the most thorough theoretical account of the place of wishes and attitudes in his writings. He traces the wishes and the concrete attitudes back to certain innate reflexes of motor and emotional sort, such as developed from the researches of Watson and others.

The desire for new experience is based upon man's craving for excitement, for fresh stimulation, for conduct that involves pursuit, fighting, " capture, and adventure. Gambling and speculation and the vicarious living in newspaper "sensations" as well as exploration and discovery rest, in part, on this trend. It is fundamentally connected with the hunting patterns of the human mind of which Dewey and Carveth Read have written. It finds its highest expression in the product of an artist or in the "research magnificent" of a Pasteur.

The desire far security is ambivalent to the first. it is "based an fear" and is related to flight and to hiding and to making one's self safe from harm. Here are rooted those attitudes which preserve the status quo and keep us in the line of social duty.

The desire for response is basic to the love faking of the sexes and in substituted forms finds expression in comradeship and congeniality. Thomas indicates by a number of cases how common is the fact that girls become delinquent from a sheer wish for companionship. Loneliness, lack of someone to whom they can respond in a close personal way, these are factors of importance in their social maladjustment. While other writers may find a good deal in the economic aspect of delinquency, the present writer is undoubtedly correct in calling attention to non-economic determinants in this behavior, He remarks

In general the desire far response is the most social of the wishes. It contains both a sexual and a gregarious element. It makes selfish claims, but on the other hand it is the main source of altruism.

It may be said parenthetically, moreover, that Thomas does not follow Freud in over-emphasizing the merely sexual, although he rightly gives it an important place in the desire for intimate response.

The desire for recognition "is expressed in the general struggle of men for position in their social group, in devices for securing a recognized, enviable and advantageous social status." And furthermore :

The importance of recognition and status for the individual and for society is very great. The individual not only wants them but he needs them for the development of his personality. The lack of them and the fear of never obtaining them are probably the main source of those psychopathic disturbances which the Freudians treat as sexual origin. . .

On the other hand society alone is able to confer status an the individual and in seeking to obtain it he makes himself responsible to society and is forced to regulate the expression of his wishes. His dependence on public

(748)     opinion is perhaps the strongest factor impelling him to conform to the highest demands which society makes upon him.

These wishes in connection with the temperament, which is largely physiologically determined, make up the character. The wishes are dynamic, motor and expressive.

The regulation of the wishes takes place under the aegis of the social order. Society has put forth a number of "definitions of the situation" which lay down the paths for its members to follow. Morals are nothing else than a congeries of these definitions, which are generally accepted as good and right. Gossip, punishment, ostracism, even death, may be resorted to to enforce conformity to community standards. In this field language plays an enormous role and the definitions, in fact, are usually couched in words and phrases which carry great emotional freight and meaning to the individual: naughty, no good, dirty, nasty, immoral, bad, or lovely, good, all right, correct. So too, gestures, nods, winks, shrugs of shoulders come into the control of other persons in the expression of their wishes.

Upon the basis of this extended analysis of human motives the author presents his case materials on the "unadjusted girl" that is, the girl who is demoralized, or de-socialized, in large part, by the breakdown of our older social order and by the present chaos of changing industrial-commercial system. Many of the previous sanctions are gone. It is the author's contention that the modern age tends to make for the "individualization of behavior," that is, it encourages the person to adjust on his own personality-level rather than in terms of the community and the family which was the case in simpler conditions, say peasant life in Europe or life in rural America. Normally, the role which the girl is supposed to play in life has been laid down by the definitions of the moral and aesthetic situations made by the parents backed by the community. This condition is passing with changes attendant on our present age and the family finds itself unable to cope with the behavior of its children. In other words the family seems incapable of affecting a shift from the older mores and conventions to a newer set.

To assist the family, even to take its place in some instances, in bringing about the shift from one set of standards to another the social agency has come into existence. Some agencies are effective; some are not. Too frequently the social agency is soaked in philanthropic sentimentalism. However, the more forward-looking organizations are putting their work upon an understanding basis. Such is the excellent work at El Retiro in Las Angeles under the direction of Miss Van Waters. Here the problem of the -unadjusted girl is handled in a humane and comprehensive way and the success in rehabilitating a large number of young women is one of the most encouraging signs on the horizon of social work.

In the course of his discussion of ways and means of dealing with the question of the mis-adjusted girl, the author points cut the rather marked failure of our public education to cope with the problem, first, because it assumes a simple uniformity of personality capable of a rationality which modern science denies. Secondly, the school fails to give the child opportunity for freedom of expression, rather compressing him into the common mold of the standard curriculum. In the third place, the planlessness of even the valuable cultural materials, techniques and information, which the school furnishes, enhances the unfortunate effects just noted. Lastly, there is too much accentuation by the schools of petty faults and divergencies of conduct and a general lack of sympathetic knowledge of human nature. This is certainly a strong indictment of the program and personnel of our public schools which is worthy of notice.

In the final chapter Thomas gives us his own views an the larger problems of social adjustment. Drawing upon the analogy of the -control of natural forces brought about by the physical sciences, he raises the issues whether or not man by experimentation and observation may not be able to develop a more rational social control. The author does not suffer from any quick utopian schemes for reform. Rather he would caution us against mixing any reforms in any first-rate social-psychological investigation. He well remarks

A method of investigation which seeks to justify and enforce any given norm of behavior ignores the fact that a social evolution is going on in which not only activities are changing but the norms which regulate the activities are also changing. Traditions and customs,

(749)     definitions of the situation, morality, and religion are undergoing an evolution, and a society going on the assumption that a certain norm is valid and that whatever does not comply with it is abnormal finds itself helpless when it realizes that this norm has lost social significance and some other norm has appeared in its place.

What we want is to turn, irrespective of any immediate social programs, to a study of the influences of the family, neighborhood, church, industry, school and other social institutions upon the growing individual. Only when we probe the nature of the social order, on the one hand, and the nature of the personality, on the other, can we expect to arrive at a knowledge of social laws and of psychological mechanisms.

For the author the individual is the measure of the society. If the person is cramped, warped and incompletely developed, this is a reflection upon the social order which formed him in large part. He says

Eventually the life of the individual is the measure of the totality of social influence, and the institution should be studied in the light of the personality development of the individual.

Thus the problem of the unadjusted girl, of the delinquent person, even of the psycho-pathic and feebleminded, returns, in the broad sense, to the matter of personality. In this book we have a very important approach to one phase of the question.

The methodology which has been adopted here is the case method, with the clinical picture of medicine as a convenient analogy. Statistics, as a method, are only indicative of problems to be solved. They are useful as showing trends in social data, but they can not take the place of experimentation or of careful observation and interpretation of cases. Certainly without taking into account the qualitative features they cannot be thought of as revealing exact causal relations of social data. Mr. Thomas would not deny, however, that statistics are extremely valuable just now in handling mass materials wherein individual study is impossible.

The foreword to this volume by Mrs. Dummer, who has done so much for the study of juvenile problems in this country, is one of the ablest statements of the faith of the sane social reformer which the reviewer has seen. It might well be read, as should this entire book, by every person dealing with youth, from social workers and juvenile court judges to deans of men and deans of women in colleges and school administrators generally. Last of all the book might well be perused by college instructors whose work touches the social sciences and by those progressive parents who have an objective attitude toward their own children.

University of Oregon.


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