By Lani Tunzi
The “Bildungsroman,” or coming-of-age novel, is one of the most popular genres studied in English class. Its roots are in 19th century Germany — roman is German for “novel” and bildung means “education/development” — but stories that explore a protagonist’s journey from childhood to adulthood are resurrected time and again throughout literature and pop culture. To Kill a Mockingbird, Jane Eyre, Stand by Me, even Mean Girls, all follow the Bildungsroman plot scheme, tracing each success, pitfall, insight and experience that push their main characters along, guiding them to maturity.
The Bildungsroman is an engrossing genre because growing up is a universal and unavoidable part of the human experience. And yet, each person will have their own version of what it means to mature. For me, I often feel like Benjamin Button, aging in reverse. I used to believe that I had matured early in life but now I find that the older I get, the more I don’t know. While I wouldn’t go as far as to call myself naive, I will admit that blissful ignorance has been a greater comfort than the cynicism of adolescence. I have come to realize that maturity doesn’t only entail knowing more about life and the world, but rather accepting that there are some things that may never be understood.
Recently, I have also come to realize how change is necessary for personal growth. We are shaped by our surroundings — who, what , where, when, how. But like in the Bildungsroman, self-discovery and progression come about by experiencing change, both good and bad.
Witnessing how somebody else navigates internal and external transformations can make our own experiences less frightening. Don’t get me wrong, life isn’t any less scary. It does help however to understand that struggle is a cost of growth, and traumas or tribulations are the greatest informants of our perspectives.
I am grateful to have had my Bildungsroman archived with each edition of the Boulevard Sentinel; I’ve written a column a month since 2016.Though this is my penultimate article for the Sentinel before I take off for college, I know my story is far from over. I’m not sure I’ll ever reach a point where I can conclude that I am fully matured but I am eager to see how my narrative will continue.
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