Bildungsroman (Bildungsroman): A novel that recounts the development (psychological and sometimes spiritual) of an individual from childhood or adolescence to maturity, to the point at which the protagonist recognizes his or her place and role in the world. Also called an apprenticeship novel or novel of formation (after the etymological meaning of bildungsroman), such a work is often autobiographical but need not be. The genre was heavily influenced by German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Erziehungsroman Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre (Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship) (1796).
While bildungsroman is often used synonymously in English-language literary criticism with Erziehungsroman, the novel of education or upbringing, bildungsroman is a more general term, encompassing Erziehungsroman as well as other coming-of-age novels. Other types of bildungsroman include the Entwicklungsroman, which recounts the general growth of an individual with an emphasis on life events rather than inner thoughts, and the Künstlerroman, or “novel of the artist,” which specifically explores the development of an artist from childhood to the point when the subject realizes his or her artistic potential.
EXAMPLES: Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations (1861); W. Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage (1915); Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937); Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man (1947); S. E. Hinton’s The Outsiders (1967) (published during the author’s freshman year in college); Chaim Potok’s My Name Is Asher Lev (1972); Jeanette Winterson’s Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (1985); Romesh Gunesekera’s Reef (1994); Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner (2003); and Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch (2013). The Spider-Man story (Marvel Comics, 1962— ; adapted to film 2002— ) has also been characterized as a bildungsroman.