Bildungsroman: What It Is and How to Write One
Growth and maturation are essential themes in writing. Since the transition from immaturity (childhood) to maturity (adulthood) is something everyone undergoes, it’s a universally relatable theme. In literature, a novel that focuses on a protagonist’s journey from childhood to adulthood falls within the Bildungsroman genre. From Jane Eyre and The Catcher in the Rye to Great Expectations, there are many novels that fall within this popular literary genre. This article will discuss the Bildungsroman genre in detail and discuss the various elements of such a novel.
What Is the Bildungsroman Genre?
The Bildungsroman genre is one that deals with the journey of the protagonist growing and maturing. The genre originated in Germany and comes from the German words “Bildung” (education) and “roman” (novel). Thus, Bildungsroman directly translates to “a novel of education.”
It’s also important to know that a Bildungsroman novel is not the same as a coming-of-age novel. While they’re both similar, they’re not interchangeable. Coming-of-age novels can consist of any story and can fall within many different genres. In contrast, Bildungsroman novels follow a protagonist from childhood to adulthood and focus on the experiences that result in a character’s growth.
Plotting a Bildungsroman Novel: Structure
As a rule of thumb, Bildungsroman novels have a three-part structure which consists of a set-up, experiences that define and shape a character, and the character losing his or her innocence and reaching maturity.
Part 1: Set-Up
This is the introduction of the protagonist and usually begins in their childhood. For example, in Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, the protagonist, Pip, is approximately seven years old at the start of the novel.
Part 2: Trials and Tribulations
The second part consists of the experiences and trials that the protagonist undergoes. These trials result in a loss of faith or another crisis that end up shaping the protagonist.
Part 3: Maturity
In the final part, the protagonist reaches maturation and comes to terms with his or her loss or situation. In Great Expectations, Pip realizes how vain he has been and comes to terms with his actions and their consequences.
Sometimes, this is changed to a four-part structure, where the set-up is broken into two separate parts – loss and journey.
The protagonists start their journey because of an emotional loss during their childhood or adolescent years. The loss in these formative years pushes them towards a path of psychological growth and achieving self-actualization.
The profound loss that the protagonists face results in them setting out on a journey. This could be a physical or metaphorical journey and consists of an apprenticeship or other experience that helps them understand the world around them. In Great Expectations, Pip’s journey consists of him leaving poverty behind and being raised as a gentleman.
Key Themes and Ideas
Like any other genre, the Bildungsroman genre has some integral themes and motifs that feature heavily throughout the book. The following are some building blocks of the Bildungsroman genre.
Growth and Maturity
The main theme in Bildungsroman novels is psychological and spiritual growth and maturation. This happens when they end their journey of self-discovery. The story often ends when this happens, and everything in the novel propels the character towards this moment.
However, it’s also essential to include loss in Bildungsroman novels. The journey to finding oneself is usually preceded by an emotional loss such as death or another tragic situation. This is usually during childhood or adolescence, early in the book. However, there’s usually another loss towards the end of the novel that fully pushes the protagonist to mature.
Individual vs. Society
Another key idea is a conflict between an individual and society in general. The protagonist does not adjust to the values society, and struggles with this conflict. It’s only through the protagonists’ journey that they evolve and finally accept the values they fought against. In traditional Bildungsroman novels, the conflict results in the protagonist being accepted back into society.
However, modern Bildungsroman novels subvert this and end with the society changing. Instead of the protagonist having to change, societal values evolve.
Loss of Innocence
Emotional loss is not the only kind of loss found in Bildungsroman novels. A key theme is the loss of innocence. When the protagonists realize how the world functions, they lose their naivete. The loss of innocence is what allows them to grow and mature.
Knowing the Bildungsroman genre and tips on writing a Bildungsroman novel are essential for mainstream success. However, the journey doesn’t end when you finish your novel. Editing and proofreading are essential to ensure your final draft is error-free. Use Edit911’s novel editing services to make sure your novel is ready to submit to publishers. Reach out to us here for more information.