|Type of paper:||Essay|
|Categories:||Motivation Personal development Character analysis Books|
Motivation is a critical element of human behavior. For instance, one's motivational state influences their decisions. Owing to its importance, human motivation has extensively been studied in neuroscience, sociology, psychology, as well as other disciplines. Over time, several theories have been advanced to explain human motivation. Maslow's hierarchy of needs is arguably one of the most famous of the theories. Introduced in 1943, the theory presents a hierarchy of needs that an individual must satisfy at different phases of their life or career to achieve optimum motivation (Cherry). The needs are presented in the form of a pyramid with basic needs at the bottom and the more complex needs towards the top (Cherry). The needs at the higher tiers of the pyramid are more social and psychological. The need for self-actualization lies at the very top of the pyramid. According to Maslow, self-actualization can be described as the process of developing and growing as a person to achieve one's full potential. He also outlined some of the major characteristics of people who have self-actualized. Though it might have been purely coincidental, several elements of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, particularly the need for self-actualization, are visible in the novel Feral, North Carolina 1965. The book by June Sylvester Saraceno presents a coming of age story of Willie Mae, a ten-year-old who is determined to learn the hidden truths of her family regardless of those standing in her way (Saraceno). In the process, she learns heart-wrenching lessons and discovers bleak realities that shake her to the very core. Though the span of the story might be seen as too short to warrant complete development of the protagonist, Willie Mae demonstrates acceptance and realism, problem-centering, spontaneity, solitude and autonomy, continued freshness of appreciation, and finally gets to the peak experience. As such, she can be said to have self-actualized.
Acceptance and Realism
According to Maslow, people who have self-actualized generally have a realistic perception of themselves, other people, as well as the world around them. Willie goes through a process of acceptance as the book starts. As the summer season of 1965 begins, she realizes that she is an outlier in her traditional and Christian family, and also in her town (Saraceno). Her mother is anguished that instead of playing with dolls, Willie preferred riding her bike, stacking wood, and wielding her brother's gun. Throughout the book, Willie comes across as an unapologetic tomboy to the chagrin of her mother (Saraceno). By all means, she has accepted herself as she is, and not even the silent condemnation of her mother can turn her around. Willie is also realistic in her endeavors. She realizes that the family is hiding some secrets from her. After establishing that no amount of prodding would get any of them to open up, Willie decides to find out for herself. Through this journey, she gets a better perception of the family and the society they live in. At one point, when she was eavesdropping, she gets dismayed by the fear exhibited by the adults over the looming integration of the local schools. This further shows that she exhibited realism and had a good hold of her good versus evil conflict from a young age.
Problem - Centering
Maslow also pointed out that self-actualized people tend to solve problems external to them. For instance, they help other people find solutions to problems found in the world. A sense of ethics and personal responsibility motivates these people. In the book, the unknown truths that Miller seeks can be best described as external problems. In particular, Willie seeks to know what killed Billy, her grand-uncle. When her questions went unanswered, she invented her ways of uncovering the mysteries. However, some of the means she used to get to these truths might not be termed as ethical. This notwithstanding, her curiosity and desire to solve the mystery motivate her to go to any lengths to unearth the secrets.
Another characteristic of self-actualized people is that both their internal thoughts and outward behavior are spontaneous. Though they conform to social expectations and the existing rules, they are also open-minded and unconventional. One trait of the protagonist that stands out throughout the novel is the ease with which she breaks the rules. The book is set in a rural community called Feral in North Carolina, where lines are visibly and sharply drawn on the sand (Saraceno). This notwithstanding, Willie consistently pushes the boundaries. This sentiment is best captured when she states that she had figured out that there were a lot of places to go only if one did not ask for permission and remained unseen.
Armed with this discovery and her bike, Willie extensively explores her little world. In one instance, she rides to Shillin Town, a community of blacks, a place she knew she was not allowed to go. Several aspects of her behavior can also be defined as unconventional. For instance, she spends huge chunks of her days eavesdropping, a behavior that is not socially accepted. She also has a reputation for asking provocative questions, a behavior that was seen as a taboo among young girls in the south during the mid-20th century. Moreover, though her family is deeply religious, she hates Sunday school, regularly covets transgressions, and generally mistrusts religion.
Autonomy and Solitude
The need for privacy and independence is another characteristic exhibited by self-actualized people. Though they enjoy the company of other people, they always need time to concentrate on their personal potential. When not fighting her brother, Willie tried as much as possible to avoid him. Though she had cherished and adored Dare, his brother, when she was younger, they gradually drifted apart as the brother spent more time with his peers. Willie greaves this separation and sinks deeper into isolation. Though she liked the conversations she had with Birdy, her grandmother, she was bothered by her reluctance to divulge anything regarding Billy (Saraceno). When overwhelmed by the weight of secrets in her family, Willie took refuge in her solitude. She would ride her bike alone to places that helped her widen her view of life. It is also notable that Willie does not have any friends of her age or gender. It can, therefore, be concluded that she loved solitude. She was also strong and independent, and almost turned into a bully on several occasions. Both characteristics are exhibited by self-actualized people as advanced by Maslow (Cherry).
Continued Freshness of Appreciation
Maslow also held that people who have reached self-actualization always view the world with a great sense of appreciation, awe, and wonder. Even the simplest of experiences, which other people might not notice, serve as a source of pleasure and inspiration to them. Willie Mae has this attribute right from the start of the book. Probably children as inquisitive and brave as she was had been born into the family before. However, none of them chose to follow the path Willie followed. The belief that her family was hiding something inspired her on her journey, which led to great revelations regarding the history of not only the family but the society at large too. Other ten-year-olds might have seen the lead as inconsequential and hence no need to follow it. It is also worth noting that the little bits that Willie gathered from her eavesdropping missions inspired her to get the whole truth.
Finally, Maslow argued that self-actualized people reach moments of intense joy, ecstasy, wonder, and awe. He called these moments peak experiences. After such experiences, the individual feels strengthened, inspired, and transformed. While her journey started as an innocent adventure to find out who killed her grand-uncle, it evolves and opens up into deep contemplations regarding religion, identity, gender roles, segregation, and violence. Willie moves closer and closer to self-actualization as the author joins one chapter to another. The various characteristics of self-individualized people are seen in the different stories that form the book. The discovery of the hidden truths, as well as the lands that lay beyond the boundaries of her town, are her peak experience. Moreover, Willie's attempts to understand her narrow and exploding world can be taken to represent a culture's quest to come to terms with its history.
As stated by Maslow, the need for self-actualization is one of the factors of human motivation. In her quest to self-actualize, Willie not only unearths her family's secrets but also brings to the fore critical societal issues. She exhibits the characteristics outlined by Maslow, and hence it is clear that she achieved self-actualization. The discovery of the truths and secrets that the adults could not tell is her peak experience. However, the story ends without revealing whether she carries the inspiration and insight gained into the next chapter of her life.
Cherry, Kendra. "Hierarchy of Needs: The Five Levels of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs." n.d. About.com: Psychology.
Saraceno, June Sylvester. Feral, North Carolina, 1965. SFK Press, 2019.
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