Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs for Life and in Literature

Maslow was concerned with how people develop their identity and humanness. He believed people develop their identity as they have their needs met and those needs formed a hierarchy, from the lowest, basic physical needs to highest, self-actualization.

For example, a hungry child will not develop much intellectual curiosity. Lower level physical needs (hunger amount them) must be reasonably well satisfied before any individual will attend to higher levels (intellectual curiosity being among the self-actualization).Maslow's hierarchy image

Hierarchy of Needs Levels from lower to higher:

  1. Physical needs,
  2. Safety needs,
  3. Belonging & love,
  4. Esteem and feeling of being recognized, and
  5. Striving for self-actualization or to reach one's best physical, social, and emotional ability. (need to know), aesthetic needs (need for beauty), social (need to be among others), and emotional (need for success and mental well being).

Knowing Maslow's Hierarchy of needs helps to understand literature; as good authors tell stories that are plausible and realistic because their characters are based on real life people who develop as Maslow observed. Therefore, knowing Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs will help understand character traits, character development, how plots unfold, different themes included in stories and other characteristics, which will help you to better appreciate quality literature.

Physical and Safety Needs (level 1 & 2)

Physical and Safety Needs: physical security begins in mother's and father's arms, includes eating and sleeping and expands to what individuals need for comfort and well-being. Material possessions and physical setting can include symbols of security. Stories that tell of people with enough food and clothing. Tales of brightly burning fires, feasts, rich clothes, glittering jewels, and splendid palaces. The lack of security is one of peoples most pressing needs, very often it is central to the plot, motive for acting, or the theme of the story. Robinhood, Cinderella, Sounder, ...

Love and Belonging Needs (level 3)

Need to be loved: all human beings want to love and to be loved. In literature this need may also be met by animal substitutes or material possessions. Devotion to people, animals, grandparents, parents, children, or material possessions.

Need to belong: to be part of a group, For young children this starts as an egocentric desire or part of self-love. Children say with pride MY mama, papa, brother. Stories about family, neighborhood, community, school, Beverly Cleary for the middle grades. When a child wishes they could know the characters, help them, or be with them, they are widening their awareness of belonging and strengthening their idea of community and acceptance of others who may or may not be similar to them.

  • John Tunis sports stories for the preadolescent and teenager makes young readers face fully the extra difficulties that beset youngsters of minority groups in winning a place on the team or community
  • The Soul Brothers and Sister, Kristin Hunte, a group of black adolescents face prejudice toward and within themselves
  • Little Navajo Bluebird, not winning acceptance but in rejecting whites and all their ways and only accepts tribal group

Esteem, Recognized, and Self-actualization Needs (level 4 & 5)

Need to achieve competence: begins with the infants exploration of talking, crawling, walking, and continues to the athlete, mathematician, artist, musician, or scientist. Need to interact effectively with the environment is a very strong motivating force. The important factor of book heroes is the unique feats they performed on their own. Found in the study by Mary J. Collier and Eugene L. Gaier "The hero in the preferred childhood stories of college men",

  • Hansel and Gretal
  • Tom Sawyer
  • White Mountains Trilogy,
  • A Wrinkle in Time, Meg
  • Carry on Mr. Bowditch, Jean Latham
  • Most biographies
  • Call it Courage, Armstrong Sperry
  • How to Survive Third Grade, Laurie Lawlor
  • Swiss Family Robinson,
  • Mine for Keeps, Jean Little a cerebral palsy child comes home from five years in a residential school feelings of fear and self-pity, adjusts when helping another child
  • Blood Brothers, Charles Drew a black ghetto child, who despite discrimination persist in his pursuit of a medical career and becomes a pioneer in blood research
  • Ramona books
  • Wizard of Oz,
  • Bridge to Terabithia,
  • Island of the blue dolphins, Scott O'Dell
  • Sign of the Beaver,
  • Courage of Sara Noble,
  • Little Engine that Could

Need to know: child's constant curiosity and why questions. Need to investigate, to know for sure, a hunger for knowledge.

  • All non fiction books
  • Legends
  • Miss Nelson is missing,
  • Curious George,

Need for beauty and order: music, dance, drama, story, painting, sculpture. The child seeks aesthetic satisfaction and the development of ones tastes by enjoying one piece of literature after another.

  • Shirley Glubok's books about art in various cultures: The Art of Ancient Egypt, The Art of the
  • North American Indian, The Art of Ancient Mexico
  • Looking at Art, Alice Elizabeth Chase: discusses ways artist look at people, landscapes, or spatial relationships
  • All I See, Cynthia Rylant: story of a painter who encourages a child

Beauty in Literature the interplay of the elements of literature and multiple themes organized in a fascinating story of intrigue and character development.

  • A Wrinkle in Time,
  • Charlottes Web,
  • Tuck Everlasting,
  • Owl Moon,


Dr. Robert Sweetland's notes &