What’s a Bildungsroman Novel? | Proofed’s Writing Tips

What’s a Bildungsroman Novel?

Bildungsroman isn’t quite as intimidating and complex as it may sound, and you’ve probably read many novels that fall under this literary genre! A bildungsroman novel follows the psychological and moral growth of a protagonist from youth to adulthood. It’s also commonly referred to as a coming-of-age novel; however, where the coming-of-age theme is a catchall for any novel about growing up, bildungsroman refers specifically to a novel that explores the learning and maturity the protagonist undergoes from a troubled childhood into adulthood.

Plot Characteristics

The plot of a bildungsroman novel typically begins with the protagonist experiencing a life-changing event, often a significant tragedy or loss, during their formative years. The emotional change that occurs then sets the protagonist on a journey, either physical or metaphorical, to seek out answers to profound questions about life in an attempt to understand the world better.

Throughout their journey to personal growth, the protagonist often faces conflict with societal values that they gradually learn to understand and accept, which allows them to also understand and accept their place in society. By the end of the novel, we see the protagonist demonstrate significant growth and maturity, and in some cases, they give back by helping someone else along the same journey.

Now that we’ve discussed what comprises a bildungsroman novel, let’s look at three classic examples!

1. Great Expectations (1861)

We’ll start with Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, which follows the protagonist Pip along his journey to psychological and emotional maturity. Pip begins as a young orphan who later comes into a large fortune that sets him on a journey to achieving the life of a gentleman.

Although Pip was initially driven to achieve a higher social status, by the end of the novel, he is humbled and gains a deeper understanding of who he wants to be and what brings true happiness in life.

2. Jane Eyre (1874)

While Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre contains many literary themes, it’s primarily a bildungsroman novel. The reader follows Jane, who was also an orphan, as she goes through her abusive childhood, her experiences at school, working as a governess, and her eventual marriage.

Throughout Jane’s journey, she struggles to find her place and purpose in society; however, by the end of the novel, through her experiences and emotional growth, she establishes herself as an independent and mature woman.

3. To Kill a Mockingbird (1960)

Finally, Harper Lee demonstrated bildungsroman in her renowned novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. The protagonist, Scout, starts out as an innocent young girl whose understanding of the world is tested when her father defends a black man accused of committing a crime.

Initially, Scout believes that most of the people in her community are good, but she learns an important lesson about adulthood after experiencing and witnessing the injustice and prejudice in the society she lives in. Although the novel doesn’t follow Scout on a journey into adulthood, she still faces life-changing events that give her an adult understanding of the world.

Proofreading & Editing Services

Bildungsroman novels are universally relatable, and readers often identify with the protagonists and feel attached to them and invested in their journey to psychological and moral growth. If you’re writing about a protagonist on a life-changing journey, you can submit a draft for free today. We have expert editors who are ready to help!

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