The bildungsroman is a literary genre derived from a German word which roughly translates to mean a novel of personal development that basically follows the journey of the protagonist covering the personal, emotional and or the spiritual development right from childhood to stages of maturity. Bildungsromans serve both cultural as well as political functions for the modernist women writers and this is attributed to the fact that women use this type of literary genre for self creations and for self understanding as opposed to claims by male writers of modernism that they use it to escape the real world. Women writers of modernist use the genre as a means by which they can approach experience with the hope if changing it and therefore acts a model by which women metaphorically accommodates women’s efforts at self expression.
The term ‘coming-of –age’ is sometimes used interchangeably with the word bildungsroman and often such use is less technical and wider. Generally, in this genre change is very fundamental and is characterized by various formal, topical as well as thematic features. The genre of bildungsroman comprise of a person coming of age by looking for answers as well as experience starting with lose of emotion making the protagonist leave on the journey. More often this genre targets at maturity where the protagonists achieves it on gradual but with difficult. Most novels falling under bildungsroman features a conflict between the main character and the society where values are gradually accepted by the protagonist leading to his acceptance in the society when his mistakes or disappointed are over or equally same the protagonist is able to reach out and offer help to others after achieving the level of maturity. Bildungsroman used by female writers use a more innovative approach through use of ironic elements of tradition. The female bildungsroman follows the growth of a young woman towards social and emotional maturity as variation of type with more focuses laid on achieving inner devilment and maturation in a patriarchal society.
The bildungsroman is exemplified by novels written by various female artists for instance the novel entitled The Color Purple by Alice Walker published in 1983 targets at empowering women by committing itself to revealing the victimization of black who are in abusive relationships. The author of this book empowers women by giving ‘a voice’ to her female protagonist as well as to other female characters to put them in a position where they are able to articulate their suffering. In addition to that Walker gives her female characters a chance to survive through their tribulations while providing them with avenue of breaking themselves free of such abusive relationships. In the color purple walker narrates a story of a woman by the name Cecile who is leading a persecuted life. Cecile is forced to stay with her father Pa, who repeatedly rapes her and takes her illegitimate babies away from her. She is then forced by circumstance to separate from her small sister Neetie consequently leading her to be trapped in a loveless marriage with an older man MR.-. She is forced to raise his children, cook for him, work in his field, to endure his violence and humiliation, his sexual assault as well as even taking care of his mistress Shug Avery.
Walker work utilizes the genre of bildungsroman as in the beginning of the story Cecile is portrayed as a weaker being unable to defend her own rights mainly because of her religious belief. While she matures she is able to break herself free from her enslaved life leading her to happiness in the end of story characteristic of her attaining maturity stage. Surprising her success in setting herself free from her tribulations in life is fostered by Mr.- mistress Shug Avery which enable the author to celebrate the significance of blues women thus employing the blues theme characteristic of bildungsroman genre. Walker therefore empowers women by making Shug Avery her strongest character as well as the most assertive female charter making her the role model as well as a catalyst fro change in her community and this makes the protagonist to reach out and help others in the society making her acceptable in the society despite her initial behaviors that contradict the societal norms in this case Shug was initially a mistress which most societies consider abnormal.
Walkers book the color purple also employs the bildungsroman genre where she employs feature of confessions which is characteristic of female bildungsroman and this is evident when she uses confession to empower her female characters to attain maturity in the social and emotional; development. For example in the novel, walker utilizes the epistolary or letter writing making the book to resemble a diary as Cecile is able to tell her story through her writing of private letters addressing to God. Considering the fact that Cecile is portrayed as a poor Africa-American woman living in rural Georgia in the years of 1930s and a victim of an abusive relationship she is almost voiceless as well as disenfranchised in every day society. She narrates the story of her life with complete honesty and condor through her letters which ultimately enables her to break the silence normally imposed to her in a private manner. Cecile’s confession narrative empowers her to free herself from her tribulations and this is evident by the fact that the author uses Cecile’s own voice to tell the account of institutions racism and sexism in first person account. E.g. Cecil’s own words my momma dead. She die screaming and cussing. She scream at me. She cuss at me” manages to bring the readers into her world filled with pain and numbness.
Woman's Ways of Knowing by Mary Field Belenky, the Color Purple by Alice Walker, Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson all use the style of female bildungsroman as all of them portrayed the female protagonists as heroines who have a tendency t grow down as opposed to growing up and this is characteristic of Fuderer’s bildungsroman .for example in the book Women’s ways of knowing by Mary Field Belenky, a woman starting to know things by first being aware through either formal a or informal education that is carried out in a male dominated society where the voice and experience of a woman is largely absent (Belenky,78). Women start knowing through various stage with each stage being more advanced than the previous one e.g. the author shows that women advance through five ways of knowing which starts with silence which implies the state of voiceless, stage of received knowledge, the subjective knowers, procedural knower, and finally the constructed knowers. This female way of knowing empowers women to discover themselves in a better way thus making them to advance themselves from the state of voiceless to create of greater personal sense of self thus constructing meaning for themselves through finding of their voices essential for both teaching and learning.
In her book possessing the secret of joy, Alice walker illustrate t hat violence begets violence through her female protagonist character Tashi who marries Cecile’s son Adam and submits to female circumcision out of loyalty to the threatened community customs of her community, the Olinka. She is then force to endure physical pain as well as long lasting emotional trauma making her to stretch across two continents while attempting to get answers why women have to undergo such suffering for the sake of men. She eventually succumbs to madness but still manage to get joy take possession of secret of joy. In her novel the author empower Tashi by following her right from her childhood of innocence right to her adulthood where is matures emotionally and socially and able to understand the reasons why women undergo immense suffering for men even in the guard of their mothers. Walker portrays the strength that comes with empowering women when she introduces the phrase at the beginning of her novel "When the axe came into the forest, the trees said the handle is one of us." To illustrate this, M’lisa and Tashi are both portrayed as victims of the society that has perfected its art in mutilating women, leaving them to deal with the consequences of the traditions alone making them hurt each other instead of joining hands together in understanding of each other’s pain.