What are the themes of bildungsroman writing?

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Doug Stuva eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The enotes Study Guide on bildungsroman writing suggests the following themes occur regularly in novels of this type:

  • Coming of Age and Apprenticeship
  • Education
  • Identity and the Self
  • Journey
  • Love
  • Search for the Meaning of Life

A novel of this type basically follows a character from childhood or adolescence to adulthood.  According to The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms, the bildungsroman (which means "formation-novel" in German), was best established by Goethe with his Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre (1795-6).  Thomas Mann is considered one of the best successors to Geothe in this area.

The bildungsroman novel is closely related to the traditional picaresque novel, except that it is more philosophical in nature. 

mstultz72 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Bildung ("education") + Roman (novel) = a novel dealing with a young person's formative years in terms:

  • education (spiritual, ethical)
  • maturation (physical, emotional)
  • coming-of-age (apprenticeship, initiation, induction)
  • sexually (virgin to maturity or rejection)
  • rebellion (vs. society, family, institutions, self, God)
  • self-discovery (a trial by fire)
  • identity (existential)


Catcher in the Rye

The Bell Jar

Invisible Man

Bless Me, Ultima

Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man