Pro-social Behaviour in Brontë's Jane Eyre and Eliot's Middlemarch

Topics: Altruism, Reciprocal altruism, Gift Pages: 3 (950 words) Published: January 13, 2014
24 January 2012

Pro-social Behaviour in Brontë's Jane Eyre and Eliot's Middlemarch “Sacrifice is an act of giving that is necessarily reciprocated,” says Marcel Mauss in his work The Gift (21), emphasizing the fact that the gift is never free and has to be repaid. While both Jane and Dorothea, the main characters of two great Victorian novels, made their kinds of sacrifice, it can be concluded that those sacrifices arose from two different causes. Pro-social behaviour or “set of actions that benefit other people or society as a whole“ is provoked either by altruism or by egoistic motives, usually in hope of future reciprocity (Twenge, Ciarocco, Baumeister, & Bartels, “Prosocial Behavior”). On one hand, altruism is an act of self-sacrifice, an unselfish performance made in order to help others without asking anything in return, and on the other hand, reciprocity is a form of gift exchange which results in either moral or material gain. People's strong interest in reciprocity actually led to creation of many economic models. In Jane Eyre the character of Jane inherits money from her uncle and shares it equally with her cousins. Although Jane's actions indeed seem altruistic and benevolent, they are, in fact, inspired by reciprocity. At first, one would say that it is an unselfish act, that the only thing she wants is to help her cousins by giving them what is rightfully theirs because they help her when she is in need, but Jane notices an opportunity to turn things in her favour. Even though her act of sharing the money is a sort of returning the gift for them helping her, Jane expects them to continue working in that way so the circle of giving and receiving is in this way never ending. As Jill Rappoport says in her essay Jane’s Inheritance, “[t]he kind of kinship that Jane hopes to secure requires reciprocal gift-giving (…)”. She “transforms the nature of their kinship” (Rappoport) so she can finally say she has sisters, i.e. “lifelong friends”, which she...
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