The Gift: Forms and Functions of Exchange in Archaic Societies

by Marcel Mauss
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Themes

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 214

The main themes of The Gift: Forms and Functions of Exchange in Archaic Societies by Marcel Mauss include the moral imperative to give, receive, and reciprocate. According to the author, in ancient societies, refusing to give gifts could spark violent actions. People viewed it as a form of rejection. Furthermore, Mauss notes that people gave gifts because it was an obligation and expected of them. The author provides an example of Australia where:

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The son-in-law who owes all the spoils of the hunt to his parents-in-law many not eat anything in their presence for fear that their mere breath will poison what he consumes. (17)

By using the above example, Mauss reveals to the reader that giving was not voluntary in many societies.

Another theme highlighted in the book is the moral imperative of receiving gifts. The author notes that people received gifts for various reasons, such as dowry, trade, and solidifying family ties. In this case, the recipients had no option but to accept the gifts.

Moreover, reciprocation is a theme that Mauss addresses. He notes that recipients of gifts had a duty to reciprocate the selfless actions of the givers by offering them a token of appreciation. Many societies believed that gifts had a spiritual connection when transferred from one person to another.

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