Oprah Winfrey, the host of the famous Oprah Winfrey TV talk show is an international media celebrity, producer, writer, actress and activist who has beaten the odds of a poor and troubled early childhood to rise to a top that anyone can desire. She was born Oprah Gail Winfrey on January 29, 1954 in Kosciusko, Mississippi to Vernita Lee and Vernon Winfrey who were by then unmarried teenagers.
Her parents never married and because of her mothers nature of work (she was a housemaid), Oprah was put under the care of her grandmother who was to raise her for the first sic years of her life. Her background can well be described as that of a poor black young woman. Her grandmother taught her to read early in her life and also helped to nurture her gift in public speaking. Oprah has often said that she overheard her grandmother severally tell her friends that the girl was “gifted”. While she did not understand the meaning of the word gift, this statement kept her going because she thought it meant she was special.
Her grandmother fell sick at the age of six and she went to live with her mother until she was thirteen years old. While living with her mother, she was sexually molested by relatives and this made her develop a wild character that led her to running away from home and getting into trouble on several occasions (Walker 2002, ¶ 1-5, 8; Krohn 2008, pp.3-5).
Good luck however struck for Oprah when she was sent to live with Vernon Winfrey, her father in Nashville and it is here that she began enjoying a comfortable childhood. At age fourteen, Oprah became pregnant but lost the baby, an event that devastated her so much that she vowed to change her life completely. Her father is said to have helped her in her journey towards change by bringing her up under very strict rules and discipline.
He is said to have been so strict that he made sure that Oprah read a book and gave a report of it every week as well as maintaining good grades in school. He also encouraged the young girl to be her best besides giving her a good education (Krohn 2008, pp.13-14; Walker 2002, ¶ 6).
Oprah Winfrey’s Development
According to psychologists and psychiatrists, the first five years of an individual’s life highly determine who and what the person becomes. Although Oprah Winfrey bears little resemblance to her southern background, she lived much of her young life in the states of Mississippi and Tennessee. She however never lived there again after growing up and only returned there occasionally but her early life contributed very much to the person Oprah would later become.
In psychological development, the term heredity refers to the biologically approved capabilities and tendencies possessed by individuals and which normally unfold themselves in the course of an individual’s life. Oprah Winfrey possessed a genetic makeup of intelligence which was observable at a very young age considering that she could read at the age of 3 years. But the external or environmental factors that she was exposed to from the time of her birth also helped to shape up her personality development.
Oprah’s personality and life was greatly developed and shaped by very sensitive or critical periods in her early life. When her grandmother was training her in performing various chores around the farm, Oprah is said to have done them reluctantly and according to Krohn, with an attitude “but my life isn’t going to be like this.” Oprah was detaching herself from the life she was going through as a victim of poverty (Krohn 2008, pp.7-9; Demon 2006, p.619).
In the course of their development, children are exposed to various individuals, groups and socialization agents all of which help to transmit social values and knowledge to the developing child. During her time growing up under the care of her maternal grandmother, Hattie Mae, Oprah learnt to be intelligent and very outspoken. When later in life her mother sent her to live with her biological father and stepmother, the young girl was helped to learn self-worth and discipline from her Vernon Winfrey.
These relationships with first her grandmother and then her father continued to shape her life as years went by and have enabled the talk show queen to learn how to act within various different roles in the course of her social life. Oprah’s parents including her grandmother Mae played very extreme but crucial roles in her development. Her grandmother and father played the roles of authoritarian parents whereby they not only set up high standards for her development but also enforced them.
Oprah’s mother on the other hand was the uninvolved parent in her life; always ready to send her off to the care of another first to her grandmother when she was a baby and then to her father when she was a teenager. It appears that her needs were always above the needs of her daughter. The different roles played by Oprah’s parents produced a child who initially suffered from low independence, low self-esteem and one who felt she had no control over her own life. But Oprah appears to have been strong and she eventually overcome all her childhood odds to live true to her very words; “but my life isn’t going to be like this” (Krohn 2008, pp.3-19; Keenan 2002, pp.19-21).
An individual’s personality is made up of certain characteristics which include behaviors, patterns of thoughts and feelings that form the uniqueness of the person. Personality is inborn, developing from within a person and follows a consistent path throughout an individual’s life. Four fundamental characteristics make up personality namely physiological, psychological, consistency and the impact of actions, behaviors and multiple expressions.
Different psychological schools of thought however have different approaches to understanding the concept of personality development. According to the psychodynamic approach for example, different experiences in a person’s childhood highly influence his or her personality. In Oprah’s personality development, her early life was highly shaped by grandmother (Demon 2006, pp. 623-624; Keenan 2002, pp.19-21).
Humanistic theories place great emphasis on the concept of self-actualization which can be described as an innate desire for personal growth and which highly motivates a person’s behavior. From the point of view of this approach, Oprah’s childhood experiences combined with a strong free will helped her to choose a development path quite different from what she had experienced in her early life. Her personality developed not only from those early experiences but also due to her strong determination to excel in life. Oprah’s early childhood was characterized by poverty and the disadvantages of being a black woman; but her strong will helped her to overcome such hindrances and develop a strong personality.
The humanist theory helps to explain Oprah’s reasons and motives for wanting to rise above her predicaments and accomplish her personal goals. Her childhood experiences and trials formed the basis upon which she freely desired and was determined to change the course that her future life would take. Deep inside, Oprah desired to be different but her childhood poverty, racial background and gender presented enormous odds that she had to overcome (Leonard 2002, pp.85-88).
Oprah Winfrey’s life story is one of rags to riches experience that proves that any person can or is capable to outgrowing a hopeless and uncertain past to rise into a great personality. However, such a move can only be achieved through a strong dislike of the ugly past and an equally strong will to do better.
Her story is also prove that no one can make it on their won and though her parents initially contributed to her unfortunate early childhood, her grandmother and father are accredited for the great role he played in molding Oprah into the woman that she is today. They instilled strong character in her and motivated her to always strive to be the best.
Demon, W. and Lerner R.M. (2006). Handbook of child psychology: Theoretical models of human development. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
Keenan, T. (2002). An introduction to childhood development. Seminole, FL: SAGE.
Krohn, K.E. (2008). Oprah Winfrey: Global media leader. Twenty-first Century Books.
Leonard, D.C. (2002). Learning theories, A to Z. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group.
Walker, V. (2002). “Oprah Winfrey Biography”, Essortment. Web.