All humans experience adolescence, so it provides a focus for much literature. All genres, including fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and drama may be used to focus on the changes between childhood and adulthood. In this stage, individuals develop a strong concern for self, seeking affirmation through peers. Psychological theories, such as those of Abraham Maslow, contend that adolescence is part of the normal progression in the search for the basic human needs of belongingness, love, and esteem. These needs must be met before one becomes a productive adult. Adolescent literature deals with the meeting of such needs.
The German word Bildungsroman refers to a novel in which a youth breaks away from family to seek independence. The word is associated with the adolescent experience in literature. Another word used to refer to such literature is “coming-of-age.” The experience an adolescent undergoes in literature generally leads to an epiphany, or life-changing realization. Through such a change, the character becomes rounded. Realizations signal the maturity of the adolescent, who gains a new outlook on some aspect of life. This allows the character to develop a personal identity, causing a movement toward adulthood. In literature the search for identity grows out of the tradition of the quest, such as that embarked upon in Homer’s Odyssey (c. 800 b.c.e.) by Odysseus’ son, Telemachus. In traditional stories, males journey abroad and females travel about within the domestic sphere (from one residence or school to another), searching for identity. In modern stories, both genders move about freely in their environments. Usually these stories reflect aspects of the character’s social, economic, and social surroundings. Thus, while all main characters search for identities, their means of discovery may differ widely. All adolescent characters face some type of conflict, either within themselves, with another person, or with their environment. The meeting and overcoming of this conflict leads to the discovery of an aspect of identity.