Coming of Age in Contemporary American Fiction

Coming of Age in Contemporary American Fiction

Kenneth Millard
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 200
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  • Book Info
    Coming of Age in Contemporary American Fiction
    Book Description:

    This book explores the ways in which a range of recent American novelists have handled the genre of the ‘coming-of-age’ novel. Novels of this genre characteristically dramatise the vicissitudes of growing up and the trials and tribulations of young adulthood.

    eISBN: 978-0-7486-2954-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vi-vi)
    K. Millard
  4. Introduction: Contemporary Coming of Age – Subject to Change
    (pp. 1-14)

    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...

  5. Chapter 1 In the Name of the Father
    (pp. 15-45)
    Russell Banks and Brady Udall

    An important issue in the coming-of-age novel is the way in which finding a place in society is coterminous with finding a satisfactory relationship with the father. For the young male protagonist especially, the relation to the father is a vital means to socialisation, and he is often the principal figure through whom the codes of society are learned. Coming of age is thus a drama of coming to terms with the father, and with all the social and cultural governance for which he stands. With the frequency of divorce in contemporary American society this relation to the father is...

  6. Chapter 2 I Change Therefore I Am: Growing up in the Sixties
    (pp. 46-71)
    Geoffrey Wolff and Gish Jen

    In terms of the social history of the United States in the late twentieth century, the decade that is most often singled out as exceptional is the 1960s. It is generally accepted that the 1960s was a time of unprecedented social upheaval in the United States, and that change had its focus in civil rights, the emergence of militant feminism, and the student protests against the war in Vietnam. The 1960s is typically characterised as a period when the radical challenges of the ‘counterculture’ were made to the social institutions of the United States, and violent confrontations of many kinds...

  7. Chapter 3 Citation and Resuscitation
    (pp. 72-97)
    Jeffrey Eugenides and Rick Moody

    Both of this chapter’s novels are dedicated to dramatising the profound long-term consequences of experiences that occurred in adolescence. In particular, traumatic experiences such as bereavement are shown to be impossible to overcome, and to have lasting effects that resonate well into adulthood. These novels offer adolescence as a defining moment, but in ways that are never satisfactorily resolved. For these adult protagonists, the failure to come to terms with adolescent experiences has resulted in an adulthood characterised by atrophy, arrested development, and pathology. These conditions in the protagonist are then given a sense of national significance by the ways...

  8. Chapter 4 Language Acquisition: Life Sentences
    (pp. 98-129)
    Scott Bradfield and Mark Richard

    The coming–of–age novel is a reasonably well-established genre with certain conventions and characteristic habits that have been in evidence at least since Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. Some contemporary novels are aware of this heritage and constitute themselves in part by negotiating a relationship with existing forms of narrative language that are perceived as having the power to shape their own story at a fundamental level. These are novels that ask: how can I create an individual voice that does sufficient justice to my story but in forms of language which are already written and which I can only appropriate?...

  9. Chapter 5 Lexicon of Love
    (pp. 130-153)
    Marilynne Robinson and Josephine Humphreys

    Since its inception in Germany in the eighteenth century, the bildungsroman has traditionally been understood as a male genre. From Huckleberry Finn (1885) to The Catcher in the Rye (1951), and Dale Peck’s What We Lost (2003), coming of age has been associated with the story of how boys become men. As a result, Barbara White believes that critics ‘have tended to ignore female experience and universalise the experience of boys’ (White 1985: 15), and Elizabeth Abel argues that ‘while male protagonists struggle to find a hospitable context in which to realise their expectations, female protagonists must frequently struggle to...

  10. 6 Memoirs and Memorials
    (pp. 154-180)
    Dorothy Allison and Elizabeth Wurtzel

    The coming-of-age novel is traditionally a narrative in which its protagonist progresses from naive or callow youth towards a sense of a mature adult consciousness and fulfilling social integration. The narrator finds their self and their sense of a proper place in society, as a consequence of working through the challenges of adolescence. But what does a true and satisfactory achievement of adulthood consist of, and how can it be known or evaluated? In a piece of writing such as a novel, how does an author find a satisfactory language by which to articulate a sense of the authentic self...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 181-182)

    The popularity of the coming–of–age genre in the United States is partly a symptom of Americans’ abiding fascination with the idea of innocence. This innocence is conceptually biblical in origin and is therefore further evidence of the nation’s fundamentally religious character. At the same time, the narrative of coming of age permits writers to interrogate the historical circumstances that have separated their protagonists from an original innocence which is mythical, imaginary, or nostalgic. The novelist’s representation of that history thereby facilitates a close critical scrutiny of the specific cultural pressures of American socialisation, or, as Cleo Birdwell expressed...

  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 183-188)
  13. Index
    (pp. 189-194)