Apprenticeship Novel: Definition and Examples

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      Apprenticeship Novel is a biographical novel, which concentrates on an individual’s youth and his social and moral initiation into adulthood. The genre derives from Goethe’s Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre (1795-96) Wilhelm Meisters Apprenticeship). It became a traditional novel form in German literature, and the German word for this type of novel is Buldungsroman. In literature it is also known as a Bildungsroman novel or novel of education formation, or coming-of-age story. It is a literary-genre that focuses on the psychological and moral growth of the protagonist from childhood to adulthood. In this genre, character change is extremely important.

      English examples of this type of novel are Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield (1849-50), and Great Expectations (1861). Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel (1929) is an American example. Apprenticeship novel is a story of the emergence of a personality and a talent, with its implicit motifs of struggle, conflict, suffering, and success. Another good example of this genre is Thomas Hughes’s Tom Brown’s School Days (1857), which involves episodes at Rugby. Samuel Butler’s Way of All Flesh, which was written by 1885 but not published until 1903, remains one of the greatest examples of the modern Bildungsroman. It presents the struggle of a growing soul to further, all unconsciously, the aims of evolution, and is a devastating indictment of Victorian paternal tyranny. But probably James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916), which portrays the struggle of the nascent artistic temperament to overcome the repressions of family, state, and church, is the unsurpassable model of the form in 20th century. William Golding’s Lord of the Flies (1955) deals with the discovery of evil by a group of shipwrecked middle-class boys brought up in the liberal tradition. J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the (1951), concerns the attempts of an adolescent American to come to terms with the adult world in a series of brief encounters, ending with his failure and his ensuing mental illness.

      However, a Bildungsroman novel relates the growing up or “coming of age” of a sensitive person who goes in search of answers to life’s questions with the expectation that these will result from gaining experience of the world. The genre evolved from folklore tales of a dunce or youngest son going out in the world to seek his fortune. Usually in the beginning of the story there is an emotional loss which makes the protagonist leave on his journey. In a Bildungsroman, the goal is maturity, and the protagonist achieves it gradually and with difficulty. The genre often features a main conflict between the main character and society.

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