In American literature, Benjamin Franklin’s The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin (1791) is generally considered the first Bildungsroman. Franklin tells the story of rejecting his father’s trade as a soap boiler, his apprenticeship to his brother as a printer, and his eventual disagreement with his brother leading him to search, as a youth, for a new life. Franklin’s running away from Boston to establish himself in Philadelphia symbolizes the many changes taking place in America at that time. Franklin matures along with his country. He attempts to pass along the wisdom he has gained to help his readers in finding their own identities. This is a major purpose of many autobiographies discussing the adolescent experience. Another well-known American autobiography is that of Frederick Douglass. His Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (1881, 1882) saw five different revisions and publications. Douglass relates his slavery experience from childhood through adulthood.
Following autobiography came novels, including those written by Horatio Alger, Jr. Alger wrote tales of young men who made their fortunes through hard work. His books have been labeled inspirational adventures; they taught his readers that hard work pays. Louisa May Alcott wrote some of the first American coming-of-age fiction for girls. Her most well-known novel, Little Women (1868, 1869), tells of four sisters who mature during the Civil War. Her books...
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