I. What is Bildungsroman?
Also known as a “coming-of-age story,” a bildungsroman is a tale in which the main character transforms from child to adult, or at least takes some major steps in that direction. Typically, a bildungsroman follows some kind of growth or education – the character doesn’t just grow up on her own, but has to go through a difficult experience in order to come out the other side with greater strength and wisdom.
II. Examples and Explanation
The original Star Wars trilogy can be described as a bildungsroman. When we first meet Luke, he’s just a whiny kid – by the end of the trilogy he’s become a powerful Jedi Knight. All the experiences he goes through along the way are part of his coming of age.
Some people (including many believers) interpret the story of Adam & Eve as a kind of bildungsroman. In the beginning, Adam and Eve are childishly innocent, and all their needs are provided for by God. But once they eat the Fruit of Knowledge, they lose their innocence and suddenly have to work for their food and shelter instead of just having it handed to them. This sounds a lot like growing up!
III. The Importance of Bildungsroman
Every culture has its coming-of-age stories, and it’s easy to see why: the transformation from child to adult is something that people experience in every culture in some way. And any reader can relate to a bildungsroman because adolescence is one of the defining experiences of everyone’s life – children look ahead to what they will be “when they grow up,” and adults look back on the experiences that made them who they are today. So, people of all ages can understand the story. Of course, the bildungsroman is especially popular with teenagers, who are all undergoing their own coming-of-age challenges.
IV. Examples of Bildungsroman in Literature
The Harry Potter series covers Harry’s life from ages 11 to 17, so they’re all about his growth and education. From a sad, lonely child at the beginning of The Sorcerer’s Stone, he gradually changes and develops into a full-fledged wizard.
Charles Dickens’s David Copperfield is definitely a bildungsroman. The story covers young David’s experiences from childhood into maturity, as he learns about discipline, perseverance, independence, and love.
V. Examples of Bildungsroman in Popular Culture
In the video game Mass Effect 2, the character Grunt starts out as a surly, lonesome krogan without a sense of his purpose in life. He’s aggressive and refuses to listen to anyone. Over the course of the game, Grunt develops self-control and finds a place in his society.
Iron Man is a sort of bildungsroman. Even though Tony Stark is already an “adult” at the beginning, he’s still very immature – a kind of man-child rather than a grown man. But by becoming Iron Man and fighting crime, he also sheds a lot of his immaturity and becomes less selfish.
VI. Related Terms
The bildungsroman is all about character development – nothing is more important to the story than how the main character changes and grows. While character development is important in all stories, it’s really the centerpiece of a bildungsroman.
The “hero’s journey” is a theory about world myths: that all heroes go through a similar sequence of trials over the course of the story. The hero’s journey is believed to be the base of all coming-of-age stories, with the “hero” as a metaphor for adulthood. Although the theory is controversial, it has influenced many writers and filmmakers, notably George Lucas.