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A bildungsroman (German: "novel of personal development") is a novelistic form which concentrates the spiritual, moral, psychological, or social development and growth of the protagonist usually from childhood to maturity. These themes are now often portrayed in films as well as novels.

Bildungsromans usually contain the following course:

  • The protagonist grows from boy or girl to man or woman.
  • The protagonist must have some reason to go on this journey. A loss or discontent must jar him or her at an early stage away from the home or family setting.
  • The process of maturing is long, arduous, and gradual, consisting of repeated clashes between the needs or desires of the hero and the views and judgments enforced by an unbending social order. This bears some similarity to Sigmund Freud's concept of the pleasure principle versus the reality principle.
  • Eventually, the spirit and values of the social order become manifest in the protagonist, who is then accommodated into society. The novel ends with an assessment by the protagonist of himself/herself and his/her new place in that society.
  • The character is generally making a smooth movement away from conformity. Major conflict is self vs. society or individuality vs. conformity.
  • There are themes of exile or escape

Within the genre, an Entwicklungsroman is a story of general growth rather than self-culture; an Erziehungsroman focuses on training and formal education; and a Künstlerroman is about the development of an artist and shows a growth of the self.

Many other genres include a bildungsroman as a prominent part of their story lines; for example, a military story frequently shows a raw recruit receiving a baptism of fire and becoming a battle-hardened soldier. A high fantasy quest may also show a transformation from an adolescent protagonist into an adult aware of his/her powers or lineage. The concept also carries over to many role-playing games, where characters frequently gain experience points and/or "levels" that make them more powerful through the course of their adventures.

Significant examples

A good example of "non-bildungsroman" is the novel Little Boy Blue by Edward Bunker. The English television documentary 7 Up and its series concerns similar themes and concerns, this time re-examining the lives of 7 year old schoolchildren and examining their progress and life changes every seven years.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Bildungsroman" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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