The bildungsroman (bill-DUNGZ-ro-men, German for “formation novel”) is a genre of the novel which focuses on the psychological and moral growth of the protagonist from youth to adulthood. The driving force behind the plot (and the major impact of the work) is the main character’s search for self, so change is thus extremely important.
The birth of the bildungsroman is normally dated to the publication of Goethe’s The Apprenticeship of Wilhelm Meister in 1796. Although the bildungsroman originated in Germany, it has had extensive influence first in Europe and later throughout the world. Thomas Carlyle translated Goethe’s novel into English, and after its publication in 1824, many British authors wrote novels inspired by it (e.g. Dickens’ Great Expectations).
A bildungsroman tells about the growing up or coming of age of a sensitive person who is looking for answers and experience. The genre evolved from folklore tales of an idiot or youngest son going out in the world to seek his fortune. Usually in the beginning of the story there is an emotional loss which makes the protagonist leave on his or her journey. In a bildungsroman, the goal is maturity, and the protagonist achieves it gradually and with difficulty. The genre often features an underlying conflict between the main character and society. Typically, the values of society are gradually accepted by the protagonist, and he or she is ultimately accepted into society – the protagonist’s mistakes and disappointments are over. In some works, the protagonist is able to reach out and help others after having achieved maturity.
Incoming AP Lit students, take note of how both Siddhartha and Jane Eyre, each after their own unique fashion, follow this structure.
If you’re looking for a book to challenge yourself with this summer (on top of summer reading), peruse this list. Each of these works is very meaty, deep in meaning, ambiguous enough for interpretation, yet forceful enough to have had a lasting impression on Western culture. Some are old; some are new. There are writers of all nationalities included here, and the books’ years of publication range from the 16th century to today. They have nothing in common other than the fact that they’re all legit literature. Look a few up on Wikipedia; read the first chapter/scene: get a feel for the work. If you find one that grabs you, read it in a scholarly way. You’ll enjoy it more anyway if you grab onto some big theme early on. Plus, you’ll remember it all the better. I’ve intentionally avoided listing books that are already a part of SPHS’s assigned reading, so this is a deeper cut of works. (A note of caution to sensitive minds: Some of these stories do include some sketchy content, so read at your own peril.)
- Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison (not the sci-fi story by H. G. Wells)
- Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
- Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevski
- Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
- The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
- King Lear by William Shakespeare
- Billy Budd by Herman Melville
- Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
- Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
- The Awakening by Kate Chopin Continue reading
Below is a table containing the words that make all the difference in a competent user of English, because according to James I. Brown, Professor of Rhetoric at the University of Minnesota, in his book Programmed Vocabulary, they contain the twenty most useful prefixes and the fourteen most important roots in our language. These constituent parts make up over 14,000 words in a collegiate dictionary size or close to an estimated 100,000 words in an unabridged dictionary. In other words, you should know these words and understand why they mean what they mean since doing so will grant you a superior vocabulary. Click it for a slightly larger view.