Bildungsroman Preview

Posted: November 9, 2016 in Bildungsroman, English 12 AP
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The final project we are working towards is here: bildungsroman-character-presentation-2016.  Keep this in mind as you read so that you can select a character you’d like to present and pick out quotes that best portray that character.

Click below for introductions to each novel

Purple Hibiscus

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is becoming quite the popular author, even in the pop world.  Check her out talking about hair or in Beyoncé’s “Flawless” or Ted Talkin’ it up on “The Danger of a Single beyonceStory” or “Why We Should All Be Feminists.”

Adichie’s debut novel, Purple Hibiscus takes place in 1990’s Nigeria where the main character, Kambili struggles to find herself and her voice while living with an abusive father.  She’s caught between her Igbo traditions, her father’s personal brand of traditional religion, and a handsome young priest’s progressive views of Christianity.  She’s caught between the material prosperity and isolation of her upbringing in a walled compound and her new experience at her Aunty Ifeoma’s — a place of intellectual freedom and community, but where simple things such as being able to flush your toilet can pose problems.  As political tensions rise throughout the country, Kambili, her brother Jaja, struggle to find balance, social acceptance, and a way to usurp their dictator father.

I meant to say I am sorry Papa broke your figurines, but the words that came out were, “I’m sorry your figurines broke, Mama.”

She nodded quickly, then shook her head to show that the figurines did not matter. They did, though. Years ago, before I understood, I used to wonder why she polished them each time I heard the sounds from their room, like something being banged against the door. Her rubber slippers never made a sound on the stairs, but I knew she went downstairs when I heard the dining room door open. I would go down to see her standing by the étagère with a kitchen towel soaked in soapy water. She spent at least a quarter of an hour on each ballet-dancing figurine. There were never tears on her face. The last time, only two weeks ago, when her swollen eye was still the black-purple color of an overripe avocado, she had rearranged them after she polished them.

“I will plait your hair after lunch,” she said, turning to leave.

“Yes, Mama.”



Winner of the 2003 Pulitzer Prize, Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides originated from his
appreciation for the character of Tiresias from Greek mythology, who was turned into a woman for seven years by Hera and thus knew what it was like to be both sexes.  Middlesex explores nature vs. nurture, identity, and what it means to be classified as a man or a woman in modern society througmiddlesexh its protagonist Calliope (later Cal) who was born intersex due to a genetic mutation.  While this mutation is not unheard of, especially in interrelated families or small, isolated villages, the really interesting part here is that it was not treated at birth.  Calliope grew up socially as a girl, then when her intersexuality was discovered as a teenager, decided to become Cal and assimilate as a male rather than undergo surgery.  Just like Tiresias, Calliope is able to experience society both as a male, a female, and an other.  Much of the first third of the book occurs in flashback as we trace the emergence of this gene through the two previous generations, starting with Cal’s grandparents in Fascist Greece.   Then we get to the main event: Calliope’s development, first as a young girl with conflicting emotions and a quirky family in suburbia, next as a humiliated subject of medical inquiry and freak show exhibitionism, and finally as a man.  Middlesex combines contemporary writing and issues with literary symbolism and allusions to explore age old debates of gender constructs.

“When this story goes into the world, I may become the most famous hermaphrodite in history.

[ . . . ] I’ve got a male brain.  But I was raised as a girl.  If you were going to devise an experiment to measure the relative influences of nature versus nurture, you couldn’t come up with anything better than my life.”

There are some interesting insights in Oprah’s overview of the book, including an interview and Q & A with Eugenides.

Invisible Man

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison is another long one, but also important to our modern culture.  Taking its title from H. G. Wells’ The Invisible Man, Ellison’s novel has appeared on numerous top 100 lists and has appeared on the AP exam more than any other work.  (Yep, this is the same Invisible Man that Randolph County foolishly banned because they couldn’t find enough literary merit, until NC was embarrassed in national news and book stores sold out of it).  Symbolism and allusion abound here invisible-mantoo as Ellison offers a social critique exploring the various reactions to the race divide prior to the civil rights movement.  The relevance of the work remains sixty years later as the race divide continues to be part of the American social, political, and cultural conversation – yet empathy struggles to find its way into that conversation, which is what makes this book so important as few today truly know what it was like to be invisible to society to the extent minorities experienced in the first half of the 20th century.

Invisible Man starts with the unnamed narrator underground, both literally and figuratively:

“I am an invisible man.  No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms.  I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids – and I might even be said to possess a mind.  I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.”

Check out Rap Genius’s annotated treatment of the prologue and click on the highlighted text for a great start to the novel!

After the prologue, the unnamed narrator then plunges back to the beginning of his story as he participates in a dehumanizing battle royal in order to win a scholarship.  He is advised by his grandfather to “overcome [whites] with yeses, undermine ‘em with grins, agree ‘em to death” but when he tries doing this with Mr. Norton, one of the benefactors of the college he attends, he finds himself expelled.  The narrator then moves to New York where he bounces around between various identities and allegiances before discovering himself and his invisibility.

Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen may appear to be shorter than the previous two options, but it can be hit or miss for a lot of readers.  Some students love the story and the language making it a fun read; others have trouble getting into the language and the story, making it seem like the longest of the three choices.  Pride and PrejudiPride and Prejudice coverce is the safe bet as far as unsavory content (it’s not going to be banned anytime soon).  As far as social issues, this one deals largely with women’s rights, classism, and changing ideas about marriage in the 19th century – marrying for love and allowing the girl to have a say in the matter is such a modern construct.  Satire and verbal irony abound as you can see from the opening:

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.

However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered as the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters.”

Bold characters such as Lizzy Bennett (one of England’s most beloved heroines) contrast with satirical caricatures such as Mrs. Bennett and Mr. Collins.  The entailed Bennett estate is in danger as the only male heir is a cousin they’ve never met (Collins), which drives Mrs. Bennett’s impetus to marry off her daughters.  Rich gentlemen (Darcy and Bingley) come to Netherfield – to shop for a wife, of course, why else would they visit? – but Mrs. Bennett’s gold-diggin’ plans are thwarted when the awkward Mr. Darcy offends Elizabeth and Bingley’s conniving sister starts hatin’ on Jane.  Then this vampiric military officer named Wickham comes to town and tries to get with all the ladies and then there’s some more drama before ending in happy marriages (for some, at least).

There’s a lot of fun stuff out there on this one.  The A&E movie with Colin Firth is by far the most accurate.  Librivox has an excellent, free audiobook of Pride and Prejudice by Elizabeth Klett which can really help you in your reading.  There’s a lot on Austen’s life and the rights of women at the time that might help put the novel in context, including Becoming Jane, which is quite interesting if you watch it with the historical pop-ups on.  And there’s no end to the adaptations either, from Bridget Jones Dairy to graphic novels to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies to anime crossovers  to personality tests . . . you could lose countless hours on the internets over this book.

For an accurate film version of Pride and Prejudice, head over to Youtube and check out the 1995 A&E Pride and Prejudice with Colin Firth.  As luck would have it, it’s all on youtube here or here.  This is by far the most accurate film adaptation of the novel.  Becoming Jane is also an interesting film about Austen’s life, which bears many parallels to Pride and Prejudice.

Pride-and-Prejudice-PosterElizabeth Klett’s FREE audiobook can be a great study tool.  Not only does her reading aid comprehension, but listening while you annotate can be a great way to keep the pace going.

Wanna make it interesting?  Try one of the many Pride and Prejudice personality tests out there or download the game Matches and Matrimony complete with “thoughtful and provocative gameplay” and “emotionally stirring music!”


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