Life Span Development
Personality Essay Questions
September 27, 2010
Tara Terry Ph.D.
Select a famous individual from the 20th or 21st centuries: Maya Angelou (born as Marguerite Ann Johnson). Conduct research concerning the background of your selected individual to determine what forces have impacted his or her life from the viewpoint of developmental psychology. 1. Discuss the influences of heredity and environment (including family and social support) on your individual’s psychological development. Be sure to describe specific areas of psychological development (moral, emotional, etc.). (300-500 words). Maya Angelou was born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1928. At the age of three, she and her brother, Bailey, moved to Stamps, Arkansas to live with their paternal grandmother when their parents divorced. Throughout her childhood she struggled with feelings of displacement due to her early separation from her parents (Mongeau-Marshall, 1994). She developed self-esteem problems because of her large frame and nappy hair and was not considered pretty; also, racism’s messages of southern black females being inferior and that they lacked control of their future. The grandmother raised them in a strict sheltered environment around church, school, and her store. The fear of being terrorized by the Ku Klux Klan was always upon Maya. After five years of minimal contact with either parent, the father returned and took them to their mother in St. Louis. This household consisted of their mother, maternal grandmother, and two uncles, but they rarely saw their mother. Maya disliked the city’s loud noises and constant commotions, so she escaped through reading. Moving back to St. Louis was unsettling to both children. Maya began having nightmares and Bailey began to stutter (Pettit, 1996). Later that year, their mother moved them in with her and her boyfriend, Mr. Freeman. One night, while their mother was working, Mr. Freeman made Bailey leave the house and he raped Maya; she was only eight years old. He threatened Maya that if she told anyone he would kill Bailey. Maya’s mother thought she was ill but discovered the blood stained underwear when changing sheets. At the hospital Bailey convinced her to tell who had done this. Mr. Freeman was arrested and Maya testified at the trial. He was released early before finishing out his sentence and was later found beaten to death. Maya stopped speaking to everyone except Bailey, and kept silent for five years. She felt guilty that Mr. Freeman’s death was her fault and she feared if she spoke about anyone else, that they would die too. The children were sent back to Stamps which Maya felt was her fault since the family could not tolerate her silence and slow recovery. One male relative even physically punished her for not speaking. The grandmother in Stamps had a friend of hers, Bertha Flowers, speak to Maya. Ms. Flowers was instrumental in bringing Maya back from the darkness. She slowly helped Maya transform from the mute with no self-worth to a speaking young woman with self-esteem and academic success (Gillespie, Johnson-Butler, & Long, 2008). After graduating the eighth grade, Maya and Bailey were sent to live with their mother in California. That summer Maya went to visit her father, but left early when his girlfriend began to fight her. Maya had been stabbed and stayed with her father’s friends. When she returned to her mother, she got a job instead of going back to school. After six months of working, she went back to school, but found that other girls her age were more developed physically and she felt unfeminine. To prove she was normal she decided to have sex, but didn’t prove anything; except she became pregnant. She graduated high school and a month later gave birth to her son Clyde. 2. Select two different theories of personality and apply them to your selected figure, and answer the...
References: Gillespie, M. A., Johnson-Butler, R., & Long, R. A. (2008). Maya Angelou: A glorious
celebration. New York, New York: Doubleday.
Kowalski, R., & Westen, D. (2009). Psychology (5th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
Mongeau-Marshall, C. (1994). The masks of Maya Angelou: Discovered, discarded, and
designed. Retrieved from ProQuest: ProQuest Dissertations & Theses database.
Pettit, J. (1996). Maya Angelou: Journey of the heart. New York, New York: Lodestar Books.
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