One of the most popular forms of literary fiction, Bildungsroman novels capture the essence of character growth, maturity, and understanding about the world around them. Many of the most well-known novels ever written are Bildungsroman in some way, shape, or form. A Bildungsroman novel, at its very core, is a story about a character’s maturing process, especially from childhood; in fact, it is often called a “coming-of-age” story. These novels typically deal with the formative years of a character or their spiritual growth and education.
There are many novels that fall into the Bildungsroman category that may sound familiar to many students:
There are 12 key characteristics in a Bildungsroman novel, and they fall into four separate stages.
Much like “The Call” in the Heroic Journey, the call in a Bildungsroman novel spurs the character on their journey towards spiritual or psychological growth. The character is often unhappy with something in their current life, and it pushes them to search for answers to their unhappiness elsewhere in the world.
The Apprenticeship is the growth process that the character goes through in order to reach maturity and moral change. This stage is called the Apprenticeship because the character must undertake an education away from their origins in order to learn and to master his or her place in society.
Maturity is not easily won; it is a long and arduous process, with many mistakes, tests, and internal obstacles that the character must face in order to finally gain maturity. They walk away with a newfound sense of themselves, and they know they are different people now.
In this stage, the character typically will return to their place of origins, and they will use their newfound knowledge to help others. In some cases, the character will not return home, but they will reach out and try to remedy a situation or a problem using the wisdom they’ve gained on their journey.
Teachers can customize the level of detail and number of cells required for projects based on available class time, differentiated learners, and resources.
As you read a Bildungsroman Novel, have students keep track of the different elements of Bildungsroman literature and incorporate them into a sample template, like the one below. Have students not only depict the scene, but explain how it is highlighting the characteristic of Bildungsroman literature. The following example has been created for Charles Dickens’ classic Bildungsroman novel, Great Expectations, and follows Pip’s journey to maturity from his humble beginnings in the forge.
Although this lesson can be used for multiple grade levels, below are examples of the Common Core Standards for grades 9-10.
ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.3: Analyze how complex characters (e.g., those with multiple or conflicting motivations) develop over the course of a text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the theme
ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.4: Present information, findings, and supporting evidence clearly, concisely, and logically such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, substance, and style are appropriate to purpose, audience, and task
ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.5: Analyze how an author’s choices concerning how to structure a text, order events within it (e.g., parallel plots), and manipulate time (e.g., pacing, flashbacks) create such effects as mystery, tension, or surprise