Allure of Coming of Age Stories

I hadn’t noticed before listening to The Bartender’s Tale by Ivan Doig that I love coming of age stories: Bildungsroman in the literary criticism lingo.  Many of my favorite books have fit this genre — Power of One by Bryce Courtenay , Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh, Harry Potter, Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, and Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery to name a few.

Here’s Wikipedia’s definition: “A Bildungsroman relates the growing up or “coming of age” of a sensitive person who goes in search of answers to life’s questions with the expectation that these will result from gaining experience of the world. The genre evolved from folklore tales of a dunce or youngest son going out in the world to seek his fortune. Usually in the beginning of the story there is an emotional loss which makes the protagonist leave on his journey. In a Bildungsroman, the goal is maturity, and the protagonist achieves it gradually and with difficulty. The genre often features a main conflict between the main character and society. Typically, the values of society are gradually accepted by the protagonist and he is ultimately accepted into society – the protagonist’s mistakes and disappointments are over. In some works, the protagonist is able to reach out and help others after having achieved maturity.” (accessed 9/21/13)

I think what I really liked about The Bartender’s Tale is that because it is told from the first person (as is The Power of One) I wasn’t worried about the ending. I knew the hero wasn’t going to die in the end, but that didn’t mean that other characters were safe. With a young narrator who is always very observant, the reader is able to interpret events and conversations as an adult would even though the narrator may misunderstand. There is something about the innocence of adolescence that is appealing, when the whole world is full of possibilities and choices.

Our October display of books features books in this genre and more can be found by searching in the catalog with Subject Bildungsroman. Huffington Post recently has a list of the 25 best coming of age videos.