Coming of Age in Contemporary American Fiction

Coming of Age in Contemporary American Fiction

Coming of Age in Contemporary American Fiction

Coming of Age in Contemporary American Fiction

Synopsis

This book explores the ways in which a range of recent American novelists have handled the genre of the 'coming-of-age' novel, or the Bildungsroman. Novels of this genre characteristically dramatise the vicissitudes of growing up and the trials and tribulations of young adulthood, often presented through depictions of immediate family relationships and other social structures. This book considers a variety of different American cultures (in terms of race, class and gender) and a range ofcontemporary coming-of-age novels, so that aesthetic judgements about the fiction might be made in the context of the social history that fiction represents. A series of questions are asked:• Does the coming-of-age moment in these novels coincide with an interpretation of the 'fall' of America?• What kind of national commentary does it therefore facilitate?• Is the Bildungsroman a quintessentially American genre?• What can it usefully tell us about contemporary American culture? Althoughthe focus is on the conte

Excerpt

‘The youth of America is their oldest tradition’ – Oscar Wilde

This book is a critical study of coming of age as it is represented in the contemporary fiction of the United States. It is a work of advocacy on behalf of the individual novels that are included for detailed interpretation, and simultaneously, an extended argument about the significance of coming of age to our understanding of contemporary America. Adolescents are important because of the ways in which they are at the forefront of social change, even while they are simultaneously the products of an adult social culture that shapes their development. This is a dynamic relationship between the individual and society, and it has some parallels in the study of literature. The individual novel is conditioned by those traditions and conventions that it draws upon to constitute itself as a novel in the first place. But, at the same time, our understanding of those conventions is changed, however subtly, by each individual novel that interprets them for is own unique creative purposes. This brings us immediately to the issue of genre, which is particularly germane to the study of adolescence. Some knowledge of genre theory is invaluable as a guide to how adolescence in the novel might be approached. Recognising an individual work’s relation to its proper genre is often fundamentally important to the act of interpretation, because it is a means to approach a text that enables us to identify important aspects of its meaning: ‘The function of genre conventions is essentially to establish a contract between writer and reader so as to make certain relevant expectations operative, and thus to permit both compliance with and deviation from accepted modes of intelligibility’ (Culler 1975: 147). It is necessary to interpret a text in terms of its genre in order to be a competent reader, and so that a text might be intelligible in the first place. Some texts, however, establish their individuality by transgressing or subverting the conventions of their genre. This is especially true of those texts designated ‘literary’, or of works that are not simply ‘genre fiction’, or of works that are innovative and experimental in the ways that they . . .

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