Sunday, October 25, 2015

Bildungsroman Analysis: A Recurring Theme (Alfred Stine, Christian Ual, Nicholas Ito)

Alfred Stine:  A bildungsroman is 'coming of age' story which deals with the moral and psychological growth of the main character. Horatio Alger's 1868 classic novel titled, Ragged Dick is a perfect example of a bildungsroman from the late 19th century. The main character, Richard Hunter, also known as 'Ragged Dick,' is a fourteen-year old shone shiner in New York City. He shows promise of a main character who is willing to learn, be honest, and make money in a legitimate fashion to move up the economic ladder. Dick starts out poor, living in the streets, and with barely enough food until he meets Mr. Whitney who convinces Dick to start saving his money in a bank. Whitney gives Dick a new suit which changes Dick's demeanor, how people approach him, and his overall attitude. We follow Dick as he begins moving up the socio-economic ladder in pursuit of his American Dream. The beautiful thing about Horatio's novel is that it promotes a young American boy in pursuit of happiness of America. Dick literally starts at the bottom of the ladder and he moves up the social ladder being honest, punctual, and by seeking justice in all matters. Although Dick is morally sound and has a keen sense of humor, throughout the novel--we do see Dick grow psychologically from that point. Dick's growth was not morally but simply in his business tactics. Dick learns how to adapt his positive attitude with American business ethics. He is able to successfully assimilate himself among the working class and begin working on a lasting empire. We see Dick's bank account begin to rise--and even when someone attempts to steal from his pocket-book--Dick is able to utilize his cleverness and stop James Travis, the robber. Overall, Dick Hunter's main growth spurt was that of adaptation, being able to adapt his good ethics with sound business tactics that can acquire him money. We know Dick's growth was not morally because we know that Dick is morally upright from the very beginning. Early on we see Dick regard stealing as "low and wicked" and throughout the novel, he discards the prospect of stealing anything. Therefore, because Dick is constantly a positive figure throughout the novel, his growth involved combining his good ethics with successful business tactics as learned  with Frank Whitney in the beginning of the novel. 

Christian Ual: Teen Angst as a Historical Creation and Movement: The purpose of our study here is to highlight the critiques regarding the development of the coming of age tale in literature and film. The central genre and form study is the connection between the centuries-old bildungsroman form and the relatively recent developments of young adult fiction and the “teen movie”. Of particular interest is the development of “teen angst”, its relationship to alienation, its reflection of an American material reality, and as a critique/rebellion with or without cause. While looking back at history I noticed that literature and film hit the same page at around 1950. That’s a key year because it hints at socioeconomic changes that would afford for such similarities in genre, style, and significance. But before I get into that I’m going to outline some basic definitions for our discourse here, particularly those of the bildungsroman, young adult fiction, and teen angst.
The first of these definitions is that of the bildungsroman. A bildungsroman is a novel that deals with a person’s “formative years or spiritual education”. This would be a familiar topic to our discourse in this class as the novel Ragged Dick represents perhaps the most obvious example of a bildungsroman I’ve ever seen. In addition, the literature genre of “young adult fiction” represents our present examples of bildungsroman-type novels in today’s market, but the genre itself is significantly wider in its scope and themes.
Going back to the target time of the 1950’s, Catcher in the Rye exemplifies a new kind of bildungsroman because the novel deals with the themes of teen angst and social displacement of the American teenager (which as we established in class, is a social construct that also originated around this time). Catcher in the Rye is a book that subjectively follows Holden Caulfield’s journey through New York City as he repeatedly encounters scenarios that erode his innocence while he is reluctant to accept his maturation. The book has become a high school stereotype because of the themes it conveys which include: the loss of innocence, sexual revelation, uncertainty and half-cluelessness among teenagers, and drug and alcohol abuse. In the novel, the main character Holden Caulfield is psychologically adrift and uncertain of his life path. He psychologically portrays himself as the ‘catcher in the rye” who rescues children from a fall off the innocence cliff. Numerous older characters in the novel serve to remind Holden of adulthood’s inevitability but he refuses to accept it. This is what causes the angst in “teen angst”, a sort of cliché term by now. The refusal to cope with adulthood is the psychological driver of this angst as it forces a teenager to exhibit a disillusioned persona regarding one’s movement forward in life. It is this psychological state that represents the most primal motivation of the teenager.

Teen angst is not an age-old, “always has been like that” sort of social phenomenon. It was created and commodified. Why would someone want to commodify a construct with such little practical use to a working America? Well, the commodification of the American teenager would not have been possible in any earlier time. The 1950’s were a time of relative peace. Post World War II, the disillusion among the adult population centered on the restructuring of the American economy and the American household. Because of several permanent technological growths and war stimuli that shifted America’s supply curve to the right, American households experienced a surplus of disposable income which directly coincides with an increase in tangible wealth. Most American families embarked on suburbanization as each now owned a home. With the new-found wealth, American consumers embarked on bulk spending on durable goods and high-end commodities (cars, houses, etc.).
This is the first moment in American history in which labor is championed above capital. A luxury of wealth is added time and a depression of urgency, such that children no longer had to work and could go to school and receive a college education. Thus, among the upper-class and middle-class American families, previously working children remained at home or at school and had time to (also were expected to) ponder their futures. The teenager was born out of these socioeconomic circumstances. The socioeconomic circumstances would take a problematic turn in subsequent decades. As late capitalism continues to redefine itself as a society that values only those who function, the teenager would continue displacement further from a material reality. I suspect that this relation or lack thereof between the teenager and the world one lives will continue to exhibit a growing alienation that may eventually prove problematic to systemic capitalism.
The alienation that begins in the 50’s and 60’s is typified by the emergence of so-called “teen movies”. These movies seek to convey the cultural realities of the American teenager. The most prominent early example is the 1955 film Rebel without a Cause. Starring James Dean, the movie delves into the lives of three teenagers Jim, Plato, and Judy who struggle to cope with the changing family dynamics of 1950’s America as well as the socioeconomic realities they live with. Out of all the films I will exhibit in this writing, Rebel without a Cause demonstrates the most direct and poignant social critique.  The film portrays loss of innocence through the death of a teenage character, drug use, purposelessness, and identity crises that seem so familiar today and commonplace as normal for a teenager. All of these themes were startling new developments in 1955. Rebel without a Cause critiques contemporary family circumstances where the fake and inauthentic familial relationships coincide with Holden Caulfield’s cynicism, the sort that labels people “phonies”.
For the 1950’s teenager, nearly everyone is a phony of some kind and the rebellion is proving that one is not a phony and that one conforms or belongs to dissent against the norm. Again, this social norm can only be accepted through a loss of innocence that most children, even teenagers at working age, will always struggle to accept if afforded the opportunity to extend one’s childhood into college years. In Rebel without a Cause, the moment in history where teen angst first develops into a prevalent social phenomenon is captured and critiqued. The critique is an open-ended one presumably filled by history and later teen films. The questions that arise through this film include: What is the teenager? What is his role, his expectation, his function? Does she need to be rehabilitated or can she reasonably continue to embody a rebellion for the sake of rebellion? I feel as if the critique loses its steam by the late 80’s and instead a cultural assimilation of the teenager construct begins to show itself.
The contemporary film that most critiques the American teenager is the 2004 film Mean Girls. Using satire and farce, the film shows the degradation of the rebellious teen into a stereotype-embodying sort of counter adulthood. To Mean Girls, the socioeconomic rebellion has transformed into a commodified construct in which stereotypes of teenage problems have become so wide-ranging that the ideals are capable of being mass produced and sold. The teenager bears little resemblance to a functioning American person. In my view, Mean Girls embodies the breakdown of a socioeconomic movement. Throughout the film, there is little reference to another world, no social critique. Instead, the film is a satiric sort of metafiction that self-reflexively mocks the construct of the teenager while simultaneously selling the stereotypes it seeks to refuse. I term this, teen disillusionment to the extreme, an endemic consequence of teenage self-absorption where the only substantive critique that teen films have is of itself and of other teen films. This is a post-modern phenomenon that spawns individualist understanding of one’s place in history as opposed to Rebel without a Cause which criticizes most aspects of society.
So how does teen angst apply to the American dream? Well, it makes being a person harder; too much drama for me. But anyway, I’d say the evolution of teen angst and its historical documentation as a social movement brings me to two conclusions. Firstly, teen angst redefines the American dream by introducing a prerequisite uncertainty and a rebellious cynicism that did not previously exist. Without the socioeconomic developments of new wealth and the suburban household, the teenager would not exist and there would be no room for this particular age group to critique adulthood, especially adulthood’s uncertainty and absurdity. Finally, bildungsroman novels and young adult fiction seek to aid in spiritual development and social understanding in much the same way that teen films wish to critique social outcomes and realities. In performing these tasks, these forms stand united in perpetuating the American dream both in painting it as a reality through a guidebook of experiences and by stirring controversy about its reality through critique and pastiche of the socioeconomic realities of being a teenager in America.

Nicholas Ito: The 2009 animated movie, Coraline directed by Henry Selick is based on Neil Gailman’s 2002 novel of the same title. Both versions are coming-of-age stories for the titular protagonist. There are some literary differences between the movie and the book but the plot remains the same. In both versions, Coraline goes through a special door to get to the Other World. The Other World is a parallel universe of Coraline’s world where the inhabitants have buttons for eyes. It is like a darker version of Lewis Carroll’s, Alice in Wonderland combined with the opening of C. S. Lewis’, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. However, the meaning of the movie version is much different from the book’s. In the movie version, the ending’s meaning is the cliched, “male friend serves as hero/guide for female friend” trope. Said character is Wybie who is awkward which doesn’t follow typical fairy tale stories. In the book, the ending is more about female empowerment than anything else.The book’s Coraline is alone and she triumphs over the antagonist with her own wits. In terms of character development, the book does more for the character than the movie. Movie Coraline is limited by the heterosexual pairing she is in. The reason for the male companion can be considered through two viewpoints. One viewpoint is the director wanted to uphold heterosexual views. Another viewpoint which the author of the book backed up is that Wybie is just there to talk to. Apparently, both the director and original writer thought it was weird for a young girl to walk around a creepy dimension while talking to herself.