19th Century Bildungsromans


The Bildungsromans is used in literature to help describe ones coming of age. It is often used to help describe the problems of the society in which a young individual is coming of age in. The novels The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, By: Mark Twain and Great Expectations By: Charles Dickens, both show how authors use the technique of a bildungsromans to portray the wrongs of a society. Although both novels take place at different setting, both show the development of a youth in the flawed native society.

In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The main character Huck grows up in the bigoted and traditional south along the Mississippi river. In this traditionalist society there were many flaws that need to be addresses and by using a blidungsromams, Twain was able to address the problems and bring them to light in a tactful manner. Among these issues to be addressed is the issue of slavery. In the novel, Twain uses Huck’s conscious to convince readers that slavery is wrong. During the journey down-river Huck realizes that Jim, the escaped slave, is like a normal white person, just a little slower. During this time he also resolves to treat Jim like a white person and to not treat him any lower. This shocking show of sympathy is used to help tell people that blacks are equals. Twains other major example of the problems of that time are exemplified by the Duke and Dauphin and The Royal Nonesuch plays that they put on. The greed and the selfishness of the Duke and Dauphin are used to help show the social problems of the time. When the Duke and Dauphin put on The Royal Nonesuch plays, the first groups of people who are scammed force the Duke and Dauphin to put it on again because they are too insecure to admit that they were swindled. This shows that the stubbornness of this time ruled over logic and trust. The feud between the Grangerfords and the Shepardsons also represents the flaws of the 19th century Mississippi valley region. The petty feud represents all the stubbornness of the times and the people’s ability to senselessly hate. Lastly, Paps brutal treatment of Huck in the novel is used to convey the horror and dangers of alcoholism. In the novel, Pap uses Huck to try and procure Huck’s fortune from him. He even goes to the extent to kidnapping him to try and get the money, so he can by more booze. This instance of poor parenting and irresponsibility is used by twain to show how the crippling addiction of alcoholism can destroy one’s self and their family.
The novel Great Expectations is also a great example of a piece of literature that uses the story of a developing young adult and the society they grow up in to show the problems of the society they are growing up in. In Great Expectations, while growing up, Pip experiences the cruel class warfare between the upper and lower classes in England. Estella’s brutal treatment of Pip when she first meets him exemplifies the hatred between the two classes. This class hatred had caused much conflict between the two groups throughout history. This part of the book comments on that and suggests that instead of hating each other we should start trying to get along. In the novel, Dickens also comments on the fake gentlemanly class that tries to be something they’re not, such as Mr. Pumblechook. Mr. Pumblechook is pretentious in his efforts and acts solely to preserve some kind of status for himself and put himself above those who do not know any better. This is proven when the sergeant comes over to the house and Mr. Pumblechook entertains him with the wine that was a gift for Miss Joe. When Pip is brought to London to become a gentleman, he experiences firsthand the brutal nature of people in this time period. When he first arrives in London, he is shown the city by Mr. Jagger’s assistant. The assistant, at one point takes him to the square where people are publically executed and crowds gather and make an afternoon of it. This was a common occurrence for England at this time. This, along with the public torture of animals through having dogs attack a bear, and other brutal and ‘inhumane’ practice were considered all in good fun. Pip reacts to this with almost no disdain, and generally accepts it as acceptable. The inhumanity of this time is conveyed by Dickens through using Pips journey to adulthood. Throughout Pips childhood he is treated in a manner that many consider unacceptable and crude for a child to experience. When Pip is living with Mr. and Mrs. Joe he is treated as if he were an unruly, incompetent adult. During this time period it was a common belief that all children were mischievous and fully aware of their actions. This widely held belief caused much bitterness and pain for pip in his early years. While children should be kept under control, they should be punished like an adult would be punished for making the same offense. This harsh style of parenting is portrayed as highly cruel by Dickens, and is done so in an artfully literary fashion.

The story of a youth becoming an adult, known as Bildungsromans, is used by the nineteenth century’s two most prominent novelists to convey the problems of their time. Among these problems are slavery, greed, stubbornness, addiction, pretentiousness, cruelty and poor-parenting. These issues are displayed for the reader, in both The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Great Expectations, in an artful and tactful way. The ability to use the coming of age stories of two very different boys, in two very different time periods, to make people aware of the issue of the time, assures the place of Mark Twain and Charles Dickens as the equally leading literary authors of the nineteenth century.

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