How does Jacob Flanders's story in Jacob's Room represent the theme of bildungsroman in connection to modernism?

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litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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One of the elements that makes this story a bildungsroman is that it tells the story of a character, usually a child, who grows and changes.  In this case, the story is also an example of modernism because it focuses on characterization rather than plot, takes place at the turn of the century, and represents an individual’s struggle to bloom in an increasingly modern and cold society.

Jacob’s story is really about his struggle and loss of innocence as an adult in the real world.  As a child, he lives in the idyllic setting by the beach.  He hunts for shells and treasures.  Yet, as he sleeps in his bed the world changes.

Outside the rain poured down more directly and powerfully as the wind fell in the early hours of the morning. The aster was beaten to the earth. The child's bucket was half-full of rainwater; and the opal-shelled crab slowly circled round the bottom, trying with its weakly legs to climb the steep side; trying again and falling back, and trying again and again. (ch 1)

This is an example of how the idyllic beach turns into a violent storm, and the child’s pail is drowned.  You can see how Jacob grows and changes.

Jacob leaves, and is dissatisfied with the world.  Then World War II happens and increases the upheaval.  On the last page, Jacob’s room is described.

Listless is the air in an empty room, just swelling the curtain; the flowers in the jar shift. One fibre in the wicker arm-chair creaks, though no one sits there. (Ch 14)

Jacob is gone.  He has grown and been hardened by the world.  This emptiness remains.  This is indicative of both modernism and bildungsroman.



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