Coming of age and bildungsroman definition and examples

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My plan is to share a short review of a notable book from the Harlem Renaissance tomorrow, but in order to get into the headspace of the novel, I thought it would be relevant to share what type of book it is before discussing the story. Imagine not knowing what a tragedy is before you read Shakespeare. I imagine his work would just make you really sad.  

What is a bildungsroman story?

The word “bildungsroman” comes from a German word that means “novel of education” or “novel of formation”; and, it is a “class of novel that depicts and explores the manner in which the protagonist develops morally and psychologically” (Britannica). Apparently, this term was coined by Karl von Morgenstern through his lectures on the “Essence and History of the Novel” in 1820 (Trott).

Still, others define it as a “regulated development within the life of the individual is observed,” and in, “each of its stages (has) its own intrinsic value … The dissonances and conflicts of life appear as the necessary growth points through which the individual must pass on his way to maturity and harmony” (Trott). In other words, the problems the character faces in a novel contribute to their growth as an individual.

We also know these stories as “coming-of-age” stories, which are extremely ubiquitous in our society, as the themes present in these types of stories appear in numerous animated and indie-flicks.


These are some of the characteristics of a bildungsroman—but not all. Hopefully, this is more of a guide as to what to look for when you read a coming-of-age story.

  • The character learns a lesson
  • There is a moral or ethical development
  • Identity building
  • Losing one’s innocence
  • A journey of some kind

Examples in literature and film

In literature

  • To Kill a Mockingbird (1960) by Harper Lee
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) by Mark Twain
  • The Catcher in the Rye (1951) by J.D. Salinger
  • The Portrait of an Artist (1916) by James Joyce

In Film

  • Star Wars (1977)
  • The Hunger Games (2012)
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001)
  • The Sword in the Stone (1963)

Works Cited

Trott. Bildungsroman.

“Bildungsroman | Definition & Examples.” Encyclopedia Britannica,