Coming of Age Novels

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The Anti-Coming of Age Novel

In the bilungsroman, or coming of age novel, readers follow a protagonist on their journey from a state of naivety and childishness to maturity, in which they are able to navigate the society of the world. Yet many novels, classified as coming of age stories actually depict a very different fate for the protagonist. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye would be such an example of this type of novel. Why is that such tales of anti-development remain relevant and appealing? What is it that they say psychologically about the world that produces them?

  • Interesting. It's been a while since I read Catcher, but I believe it leaves us hanging on whether Holden matures. I'd be intrigued to see what the stagnation or ambiguity says about the world. If this isn't restricted by time period, Ellen Hopkins' YA work may be something to look into because she sometimes leaves the protagonist(s) without an upward conclusion. Interesting topic. – emilydeibler 8 years ago
  • This a really intriguing idea, as I agree, many traditional coming of age novels leave students scratching their heads trying to connect what they just read to an outlook they should supposedly apply to their lives. I think this topic could be expanded into the discussion of how we often praise books of the label as "classic" while ignoring the lives and outlooks of the authors, which would be playing into your last question of the psychology of the creator or our mass consciousness. This would be also a great gateway to talking about what keeps them popular, but also what is being produce now and has the potential for being a new book that lasts beyond its time and becomes a classic as well. – TravisBoom 8 years ago
  • I have not read Catcher in the Rye all the way through yet, but I have read L'estranger by Albert Camus which is normally considered a rite of passage for French Teenagers. In "The Stranger" we follow the existentialism ideology that was made famous by Jean-Paul Satre. Existentialism might have a lot to do with these novels your topic is about, so the "Anti-Coming of Age Novel" might be based on the ideas of this philosophical system (at least to a point). The Stranger was published in 1942 while The Catcher in the Rye was published in 1951. This seems, to me, like plenty of time for the transfer ideas between cultures. – garland41 8 years ago
  • Would love to see some references to modern bilungsroman. Murakami might be a start. – oakhubris 8 years ago
  • FYI: It is technically "bildungsroman," not bilungsroman. And yes, Catcher in the Rye is a good example. One of the most famous earlier examples is The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling, by Henry Fielding. Though most relate these types of stories to male protagonists, Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte, is regarded as a bildungsroman, as is Maggie, from The Mill on the Floss, by George Eliot. One of the best examples is Dickens' classic, Great Expectations. On a more "contemporary note," Ralph Ellison's extraordinary novel, An Invisible Man is a pertinent example of a bildungsroman, as is Harper Lee's To Kill a Mocking Bird. More recent examples would include The Kite Runner, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and even Harry Potter. This is a fascinating topic. – danielle577 8 years ago