Coming of Age Stories: Explorations of Components of the Narrative
In literature, one of the most frequently dealt with theme is the story of one character's developing over time and reacting to the various experiences that he or she faces through the course of the narrative. This type of tale, called a coming of age story, follows the characters from the point at the beginning of the story all the way up to the end of the tale when all of the events end. Throughout each part of the story, the character will have to go through changes in some way because of the experiences that are had through the plot and through the depictions of the other characters. What is paramount in the telling of a coming of age story is that as a character ages and develops chronologically, that character must develop in an equal percentage emotionally and as a human being. Many stories feature these kinds of narrative and among perhaps the most powerful versions of the coming of age story are Joan Didion's "Goodbye to All That," Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried" and "On the Rainy River," and Malcolm X's "Saved."
There are certain components that comprise a traditional coming of age story. A coming of age story, also known as a bildungsroman, requires a protagonist who is in some way naive at the beginning of the story. Usually the main character will be a child, teenager, or young adult, someone's whose physical characterization will mirror their innocence of mind which will change as the story progresses (Iverson 33). There are many variations on this theme and there are no specific rules which dictate how a character must change. The only thing that is necessary in a coming of age story is that in some way, the character changes and is far off physically and psychologically from the place they were at the beginning of the story.
In Joan Didion's "Goodbye to All That," she writes about her experience as a young woman who leaves Sacramento and heads to the Big Apple in order to become a world famous writer. There is a naive belief by those living in less urban areas that they can leave their smaller town behind them, move to a large city like New York or Los Angeles, and that they will be successful. Some go with the false belief that achieving success in the big city will be easy. All one need to do is get off of the bus or train or airplane and success will be quickly achieved. Even those who are less naive about the competition of others in such cities will still have the naive belief that they will be successful, no matter how many millions of others have gone to the metropolises and failed. Over the course of the story, which encompasses approximately a decade in the author's life, she becomes more accustomed to the truth of the situation in which she has put herself. She arrives in the city with the hope and naivety of same-minded youths and leaves the city with a somewhat positive perspective. However, in leaving, she also has a feeling that she has lost something through her experiences in the city (Didion 227). Now, she knows the truth about the opportunities and that not everything is as easy as we believe in our youth. Things require hard work, struggle, and sacrifice and even when those occur, success is not guaranteed to anyone.
In the first Tim O'Brien story, "The Things They Carried," the author explores a band of young soldiers and describes each of the items that the young men carry with them into battle. The first character that is introduced is First Lieutenant Jimmy Cross. Each young man has to carry certain things with him as they march from place to place and do battle with the enemy. In the quiet moments of solitude, Jimmy imagines a young girl named Martha and wonders whether or not she is a virgin. All of these young men are facing the real possibility of death and the items that they have to carry with them both embody their individualism and also their current role, as each youth is responsible for carrying with him the tools he needs for survival. By continually questioning Martha's virginity Jimmy Cross makes an interesting division between innocence and a lack thereof (O'Brien 2).…