Sense and Sensibility,simple psychology towards Maslow’s hierarchy
Sense and Sensibility: A Psychological Exploration of Human Needs through Maslow’s Hierarchy
Sense and Sensibility, a novel written by Jane Austen in the early 19th century, explores the lives of two sisters, Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, as they navigate the challenges of love, societal expectations, and personal growth. While the novel is set in a different time and place, its themes and characters remain relevant to contemporary society. In this essay, we will analyze Sense and Sensibility through the lens of Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, a psychological theory that seeks to understand human motivation and development. We will explore how the characters in the novel, particularly Elinor and Marianne, exemplify the various levels of Maslow’s hierarchy and how their pursuit of these needs impacts their decisions and behavior.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a well-known psychological theory that categorizes human needs into five distinct levels, often represented as a pyramid. These levels, from the bottom to the top, are: physiological needs, safety needs, belongingness and love needs, esteem needs, and self-actualization. According to Maslow, individuals are motivated to fulfill these needs in a hierarchical fashion, with lower-level needs taking precedence over higher-level ones. Only when lower-level needs are reasonably satisfied can individuals move on to address higher-level needs.
- Physiological Needs
At the base of Maslow’s hierarchy are physiological needs, which include the fundamental requirements for human survival. These needs encompass elements such as food, water, air, shelter, and sleep. In Sense and Sensibility, the Dashwood sisters’ journey begins with a significant challenge in this category due to their sudden reduction in financial means following their father’s death. The loss of their home and a reliable source of income forces them to consider their basic survival needs. They must secure a new place to live and ensure they have enough food and resources to sustain themselves.
After their move to Barton Cottage, Elinor takes on a practical role, ensuring that their limited resources are wisely managed. She demonstrates her responsibility by making the best of their situation, making do with a more modest lifestyle, and budgeting carefully. Her focus on addressing the physiological needs of her family showcases her practicality and emotional strength, even in the face of adversity.
Marianne, on the other hand, initially struggles with the practical aspects of their new life. She is sensitive to the changes and resists adapting to a simpler, more frugal lifestyle. Her initial inability to accept their new circumstances illustrates her focus on higher-level needs, such as self-esteem and love, before addressing the basic physiological needs.
Once physiological needs are reasonably met, individuals turn their attention to safety needs. These needs encompass physical safety, but also emotional and financial security. In Sense and Sensibility, the Dashwood sisters face various challenges related to their safety needs. Their lack of a substantial income and social status places them in a vulnerable position within the society of the time.
Elinor, being practical and responsible, takes it upon herself to ensure the safety and security of her family. She makes careful financial decisions, avoids unnecessary risks, and maintains a composed and unemotional facade, even when faced with challenges. Elinor’s ability to prioritize safety needs aligns with her character as someone who values prudence and rationality.
Marianne, however, initially dismisses the importance of safety needs. Her impulsive and emotional nature leads her to engage in behaviors that jeopardize her safety, such as her ill-fated encounter with Willoughby. Her focus on emotional intensity and romantic ideals overshadows the need for safety and security in her life.
Belongingness and Love Needs
The next level in Maslow’s hierarchy is the need for belongingness and love, which includes relationships, friendships, and the desire to be part of a community or family. In Sense and Sensibility, both Elinor and Marianne experience the complexities of these needs.
Elinor forms a close bond with her family, especially her younger sister Margaret, and values the relationships she has with her mother and sisters. Her reserved and sensible nature makes it challenging for her to open up to new acquaintances, but she cherishes the connections she has. Her friendship with Colonel Brandon slowly develops into a deep emotional attachment, illustrating her capacity for love and belongingness.
Marianne, on the other hand, is more open to forming intense emotional connections, especially with Willoughby. Her passionate and impulsive nature leads her to seek intense romantic love. However, her fixation on idealized love blinds her to the realities of Willoughby’s character. Her pursuit of romantic love is ultimately detrimental to her well-being, as she neglects the need for more stable and enduring forms of love and belongingness within her family.
The fourth level in Maslow’s hierarchy is esteem needs, which encompass both self-esteem and the esteem of others. Individuals strive for self-respect and the respect of those around them. This category includes feelings of accomplishment, recognition, and success. In Sense and Sensibility, characters’ pursuit of esteem needs plays a significant role in their development.
Elinor’s self-esteem is closely tied to her sense of duty and responsibility. She gains self-respect through her ability to manage the family’s affairs and provide emotional support to her sisters. Her composed and rational demeanor earns her the esteem of others, particularly Colonel Brandon and Edward Ferrars.
Marianne, on the other hand, seeks esteem through her passionate nature and her desire for romantic recognition. She initially believes that love should be grand and dramatic, and she craves the admiration of those around her. Her journey toward self-esteem is more tumultuous, as she must learn to balance her intense emotions with a more measured approach to love and relationships.
The pinnacle of Maslow’s hierarchy is self-actualization, which represents the realization of one’s full potential and the pursuit of personal growth and fulfillment. It is the highest level of human needs, and only a relatively small percentage of individuals reach this level. In Sense and Sensibility, the characters’ journeys toward self-actualization are central to the novel’s themes.
Elinor’s path toward self-actualization involves reconciling her sense of duty and practicality with her emotional needs. Her love for Edward Ferrars represents a significant step in her self-actualization journey, as she learns to balance her emotional desires with her practical responsibilities. Her ability to adapt and grow as a person while remaining true to her values demonstrates her progress toward self-actualization.
Marianne’s journey toward self-actualization is more dramatic and transformative. Her near-death experience and illness force her to reevaluate her beliefs about love and emotion. Through her relationship with Colonel Brandon, she learns to appreciate a quieter and more mature form of love. Her growth as a character culminates in her realization that self-actualization does not require sacrificing one’s emotional depth but rather integrating it with a more balanced and rational approach to life.
In Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen masterfully explores human needs and motivations through the characters of Elinor and Marianne Dashwood. Using Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as a framework, we have examined how the sisters’ journeys align with the different levels of the hierarchy. Elinor’s practicality, responsibility, and emotional strength help her address lower-level needs, while Marianne’s emotional intensity and idealism initially lead her to focus on higher-level needs.
As the novel progresses, both Elinor and Marianne undergo significant personal growth and transformation. They learn to balance their emotional and practical sides, ultimately moving toward self-actualization. Elinor finds love with Edward Ferrars while maintaining her sense of duty, and Marianne learns to appreciate the stability and depth of her relationship with Colonel Brandon.
Sense and Sensibility serves as a timeless exploration of human nature and the universal quest for fulfillment and self-realization. Through the lens of Maslow’s theory, we can better understand the characters’ motivations, decisions, and personal growth throughout the novel, shedding light on the enduring relevance of Austen’s work in today’s society. This classic novel continues to resonate with readers, offering valuable insights into the complexities of human needs and the pursuit of happiness.
- Austen, J. (1811). Sense and Sensibility. Thomas Egerton.
- Maslow, A. H. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review, 50(4), 370-396.
- Maslow, A. H. (1954). Motivation and personality. Harper & Row.
- Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2000). The “what” and “why” of goal pursuits: Human needs and the self-determination of behavior. Psychological Inquiry, 11(4), 227-268.
- Taylor, I., & Devito, J. A. (2019). Applying Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to the Workplace. In The Palgrave Handbook of Workplace Well-Being (pp. 1-24). Palgrave Macmillan.
- Riggio, R. E. (2017). Listening and human needs: A revised Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. In The Oxford Handbook of Multimethod and Mixed Methods Research Inquiry (pp. 271-286). Oxford University Press.
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