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The Bildungsroman (German pronunciation: [ˈbɪldʊŋs.ʁoˌmaːn]; German: "formation novel") is a genre of the novel which focuses on the psychological and moral growth of the protagonist from youth to adulthood.[1] Change is thus extremely important.[2] The genre is further characterized by a number of formal, topical and thematic features.[3] The term coming-of-age novel is sometimes used interchangeably with Bildungsroman, but its use is usually wider and less technical.

The birth of the Bildungsroman is normally dated to the publication of Goethe’s The Apprenticeship of Wilhelm Meister in 1795-96.[4] Although the Bildungsroman arose in Germany, it has had extensive influence first in Europe and later throughout the world. Thomas Carlyle translated Goethe’s novel into English, and after its publication in 1824, many British authors wrote novels inspired by it. In the 20th century, the genre has been particularly popular among women and minority writers, and it has spread to numerous countries around the globe.[5]

A Bildungsroman tells about the growing up or coming of age of a sensitive person who is looking for answers and experience. 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.



To be categorized in the genre Bildungsroman, the plot must follow a certain course. The protagonist grows from child to adult in the novel. An example of this genre could be the book Johnny Tremain, or Tom Sawyer. At an early stage, a loss or some sort of discontent pushes him or her away from home or the family setting, providing an impetus to embark on a journey. The main character often develops through "self actualization". The process of maturation is long, strenuous and gradual, involving repeated clashes between the protagonist's needs and desires and the views and judgments enforced by an unbending social order.

There are many other similar genres that focus on the growth of an individual. An Entwicklungsroman ("development novel") is a story of general growth rather than self-cultivation. An Erziehungsroman ("education novel") focuses on training and formal schooling, while a Künstlerroman ("artist novel") is about the development of an artist and shows a growth of the self.

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