In German, bildungs
means education or formation, while roman
means novel. Put the two words together, and you get bildungsroman
— a coming-of-age novel that follows the self-development of a young person from youth to maturity.
Classic examples of this literary genre are Great Expectations, Jane Eyre, and Portrait of a Young Man as an Artist. Contemporary examples are Invisible Man, the Harry Potter series, and Catcher in the Rye.
Using Invisible Man as an example, here are several features that are common to the genre:
An unhappy experience or loss that spurs the character (at a young age) to leave home or the family: The narrator (as the main character is called in Invisible Man) gets expelled from college and seeks his fortune in New York City.
A series of challenging events that serve to educate the main character: The narrator experiences racism and numerous betrayals; almost gets killed in an explosion; becomes a human experiment for doctors; gets involved in Harlem race riots; and more.
The self-realization (self awareness) of the main character: At the end of the story, the narrator awakens from a nightmare, stripped of his illusions. He sees his life with renewed vision and clarity, finally realizing that his experiences shape his identity; that he is a part of history; and is ready to become "visible" once again.