Bildungsroman is a unique type of novel that centers around the psychological and moral development of its main character, tracing their growth from youth to adulthood.
A Bildungsroman tells the story of a sensitive individual searching for answers through various life experiences. Typically, such a novel begins with a loss or tragedy that deeply affects the protagonist emotionally, compelling them to embark on a transformative journey.
Throughout this journey, the main character undergoes gradual and often challenging personal growth, frequently encountering conflicts with societal values. Ultimately, they come to accept these values, leading to a resolution of their dissatisfaction. This type of novel is also known as a "coming-of-age" story.
Examples of Bildungsroman in Literature
Example #1: "The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling" by Henry Fielding
"In this famous comic bildungsroman, Tom Jones, a foundling discovered by Squire Allworthy, grows into a robust and honest young man. Despite facing opposition due to his 'bastard' status, Tom's journey leads to the revelation of his true parentage, ultimately gaining acceptance in society."
This example highlights how personal growth and societal acceptance are central themes in this bildungsroman.
Example #2: "David Copperfield" by Charles Dickens
"Charles Dickens' 'David Copperfield' is a bildungsroman that follows the life of its protagonist from childhood to adulthood. David's experiences, including his time working for a wine merchant in London and his relationship with his eccentric aunt Betsey Trotwood, contribute to his personal growth and maturation."
This novel exemplifies the journey of self-discovery and transformation that is characteristic of bildungsroman literature.
Example #3: "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" by James Joyce
"James Joyce's novel explores the coming-of-age of Stephen Dedalus. Starting as a young student in a boarding school, Stephen's religious awakening leads to a brief period as a cleric. However, he ultimately realizes his calling as an artist, reflecting his evolving identity and values."
This example illustrates the inner conflict and self-discovery inherent in a bildungsroman narrative.
Example #4: "Never Let Me Go" by Kazuo Ishiguro
"Kazuo Ishiguro's modern bildungsroman is divided into three acts: childhood, adulthood, and donor. The novel follows Kathy, a 'donor' whose organs are harvested for transplantation. Through her life stages, Kathy's character evolves from a free-spirited child to a mature woman, accepting her fate and that of her friends."
This contemporary bildungsroman explores themes of acceptance and fate within a dystopian context.
Function of Bildungsroman
A bildungsroman novel serves to depict and critique societal flaws that cause the protagonist's suffering. These novels offer a sense of realism, portraying the protagonist as a relatable, sensitive individual profoundly impacted by their losses, which ultimately redirect the course of their life.
The psychological and moral growth of the protagonist provides profound insight into their character and the conflicts they face. Consequently, readers can empathize with the coming-of-age characters and feel emotionally engaged as they witness their journey through different life stages, culminating in positive change.