Famous Bildungsroman Examples and Characteristics

Bildungsroman is an odd word. However, the meaning is simple. A bildungsroman is a specific type of coming of age story. Explore bildungsroman examples in literature and pop culture.

Jane Eyre as a bildungsroman exampleJane Eyre as a bildungsroman example

What Is a Bildungsroman? 

You might look at the word bildungsroman and think what does that mean? You wouldn’t be the first person. Bildungsroman is actually a German word with two parts. Bildung breaks down to “education''. And, roman is defined as a novel. Put the two together, and you have an educational novel. A bildungsroman is a novel where a lead character grows from a lost youth to a mature adult. This is typically, but not always, following some life-changing event. 

Bildungsroman vs. Coming-of-Age

But isn’t that a coming-of-age novel? Bildungsroman and coming-of-age might be used interchangeably; however, a bildungsroman is a specific type of coming-of-age story. Not all coming-of-age stories are a bildungsroman because, in addition to physically growing up from a lost child, they gain mental maturity to adulthood. Therefore, the character morphs from a caterpillar into a butterfly, losing all their childhood innocence. 

Bildungsroman Examples in Literature

Ready to see bildungsroman in action? Bildungsroman examples are all around in literature plots

Harry Potter Series

In the beginning of the series, Harry Potter is just a boy, a special boy, but still just a boy. Through his wizarding education and life experiences, he matures. In the final book, Harry shows his growth from a lost boy living with his aunt and uncle to a fully-fledged wizard ready to take on the world. 

Hunger Games Series

While Katniss Everdeen is pretty tough in the beginning of the Hunger Games series, she’s still just a child. She’s a poor lost girl, trying desperately to keep her family alive. However, throughout her experiences with the games and her fight against President Snow, she evolves into a hero. 

Jane Eyre

Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre is a classic example of a bildungsroman. Jane’s journey starts with an abusive childhood and the loss of her best friend to a placement in a home where she’s anything but appreciated. She experiences love and loss, but these experiences work to mold her into a mature woman ready to make the ultimate sacrifice for her beliefs. 

Never Let Me Go

Could you imagine being harvested for organs? That’s Kathy’s reality as she goes from a child at Hailsham with her friends to a “carer” to a “donor.” She goes from a naive child to accepting her twisted role in society. 

Popular Culture Bildungsroman Examples

Literature enthusiasts love a good bildungsroman. However, pop culture does too. It makes sense when you think about how many books are converted into movies. However, some great examples of bildungsroman are in cinema and TV too. 

Now and Then

A classic bildungsroman example, Now and Then shows the growth and changes of four girls as they grow into womanhood. This movie effectively uses flashbacks to help the audience see their growth. 

Boy Meets World

A boy can’t meet the world if he doesn’t grow up. Set in school and around his family, this 90s bildungsroman shows us the growth and maturity of Cory Matthews from his education to his love life. 

Star Wars

Whether you are talking about Luke Skywalker or Anakin, Star Wars is full of growth and maturity of characters. Throughout the series, you watch Anakin become Darth Vader and Luke grow into a jedi. 

Bildungsroman Characteristics

Endless examples of bildungsromans can be found. To weed out what might be a standard coming-of-age story, a bildungsroman should include a few characteristics. 

  • Questioning - The main character is questioning something in their life. This might be caused by a big loss or some emotional change. 

  • Seeking answers - The questioning they feel inside pushes them to gain life experience or seek knowledge. 

  • Journey - The journey they take toward enlightenment and maturity is full of twists and turns. The outcomes they expected might change, or their life takes a twist they don’t expect. 

  • Maturing - Through their journey, the character grows mentally and physically. They gain a maturity they didn’t have in the beginning of the story. They blossom into a grown-up. 

Coming of Age

There are a lot of different coming-of-age stories. One specific type of coming-of-age story is a bildungsroman. Keep your knowledge of literature and plot devices going by looking at character trait examples.

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