The Bildungsroman and the Theme of Authenticity in Jane Austen's Emma and J.D. Salinger's the Catcher in the Rye
Sanford, Jaclyn Mary
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CitationSanford, Jaclyn Mary. 2019. The Bildungsroman and the Theme of Authenticity in Jane Austen's Emma and J.D. Salinger's the Catcher in the Rye. Master's thesis, Harvard Extension School.
AbstractThis analysis of the bildungsroman as a literary form explores the theme of authenticity and the ways in which it engages with coming-of-age narratives in Jane Austen’s 1815 novel Emma and J.D. Salinger’s 1951 novel The Catcher in the Rye. In these works, Austen’s titular heroine and Salinger’s Holden Caulfield explore what it means to live authentically as they approach the transition from youth into young adulthood. In their respective temporal and social settings, Emma and Holden precariously navigate the trials of learning to truly know oneself amidst the challenges of convention. Ultimately, the unique relationship of these complex protagonists and the theme of authenticity in Austen’s and Salinger’s coming-of-age narratives reveal that the bildungsroman is fundamentally a portrait of a search to discover what it means to live authentically.
Though their works are temporally divided by nearly a century, Austen and Salinger demonstrate how the coming of age novel is essentially a discovery of one’s own authenticity amid the challenges of adapting to the conventions of society as an adult. The complexities of Emma’s and Holden’s unique characters reveal how issues of gender, class, and privilege affect the evolution towards adulthood. These texts demonstrate that it is society’s perception of and traditional approaches to gender roles that complicate the maturation process. In addition, Austen’s and Salinger’s narratives illustrate how issues of class and privilege complicate the ways in which a protagonist engages with society as he or she approaches adulthood. Furthermore, Austen and Salinger demonstrate their nuanced utilizations of subtle symbolism and irony in their respective manipulations of text.
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