Feminism in Bildungsroman literature

Bildungsroman is a literary style that begun in Germany in the eighteenth century (Maier, 2007). The term was coined by the German Philologist, Karl Morgenstern in 1819 and later recaptured by Wilhelm Dilthey who legitimized it in 1870 and popularized it in 1905.

The genre, Bildungsroman, has been defined in diverse ways. It is defined as “a novel tracing the spiritual, moral, psychological, or social development and growth of the main character, usually from childhood to maturity” (the English dictionary). The literary Encyclopaedia defines it as “the novel of personal development or of education”.

It can also be defined as “a novel about the moral and psychological growth of the main character” (2009).

The term is made up of “Bildung” which means education or formation and “roman” meaning novel. Bildungsroman is therefore a novel of formation or education which focused on the physical, psychological and moral growth of the main character or the protagonist from childhood to maturity. The literary genre focuses on the trials and misfortunes that affects the protagonist’s growth.

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Bildungsroman is a novel whose events are chronologically geared towards the growth of a single youthful protagonist. Thus from a stage of naivety to the consciousness of one’s environment.

David J. Mickelsen (1986), in his paper “The Bildungsroman in Africa: The Case of Mission termine’e” states that “the Bildungsroman typically examines the conflict of culture in which a young e`volue` struggles to achieve a balance between the “civilizing” education of the colonial power and the traditional culture of his forefathers” (418). He explains further that the protagonist acquires development chronologically: a stage nativity to a stage of self-independence and maturity.

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In 2010, Emma stanland in his work “Towards Agency” defines bildungsroman as “a symbolic vehicle for voicing the individual’s desire to be part of a wider community (2). Stanland adds that “bildungsroman is a literary form that engages above all with emergence of self within its social context (21). He suggest that it is through the protagonist’s interaction with individuals and the society that they attain growth and development when is the central goal of the genre.

Thamarana (2015) posits that Bildungsroman has various variations which encompasses the Entwickslungroman which is the novel of development, thus the novel of general growth. Erziehungsroman also called apprenticeship is the novel of education. It focuses on training and formal education. kunstlerroman is a novel that focuses on the development of the artistt and Zeitroman which blends the development of era in which the hero lives with his or her personal development (22). He argues further that the protagonist journeys from youth to psychological or emotional maturity.

The literary style has been classified into two main types: the male and female Bildungsroman Rita Felski (1987). These classifications are usually based on the identity of the protagonist of a work of art as well as how crucial the events narrated in the work of art reflect the challenged of the male or female protagonist. Thus, male Bildungsroman is a novel by a male writer which is focused on the education of the male protagonist whereas, female Bildungsroman is a novel by a female writer with its education focused on the female protagonist. Johann Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship (1795) and Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations (1861) are examples of male Bildungsroman while Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre (1847) and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus (2006) are examples of the female Bildungsroman.

Bildungsroman in the nineteenth century was male-biased in that majority of the works were written by male authors and their focus was on the progress of their male protagonist’s development. Some of the key proponents of the male Bildungsroman an genre are Johann Goethe, Thomas Mann, Charles Dickens, Christoph Martin Wieland, Henry Fielding, Laurence sterne, Alexander Pushkin, Ralph Ellison.

Rita Felski (1987) points out important differences between the male and female Bildungsroman. Felski argues that while the male protagonist is liberated to attain self-discovery, the female protagonist has to struggle to gain self-independence by freeing herself from patriarchal dominance.

Another gender difference observed by Felski is that, the male Bildungsroman focuses entirely on the education of the male protagonist through childhood to adolescence, while the female protagonist experiences hers from childhood to maturity. Felski makes emphasis on the fact that the male protagonist’s desire for self- development ends in early manhood, while the desire for self-independence of the female protagonist continuous well into maturity.

Felski further adds that the contemporary female novel of development is an eye-opening literary form, which educates women on self-identification, self-independence, and a possible path to challenge patriarchal gender norms.

In her work “Wilhelm Meister and His English Kinsmen: Apprentices to life (1930), Susanne Howe presents a definition of the bildungsroman by outlining certain features as the basic plot pattern of the genre. Howe writes that

The adolescent hero of the typical ‘apprentice’ novel sets out on his way through the world, meets with reverses usually due to his own temperament, falls in with various guides and counsellors, makes many false starts in choosing his friends, his wife, and his life work, and finally adjusts himself in some way to the demands of his time and environment by finding a sphere of action in which he may work effectively. (4)

Susanne Howe’s this basic her plot pattern in her study in Goethe’s ‘Bildungsroman’ and of the Apprentice Theme in English Literature in both German and English novels before the introduction of Jerome Buckley’s plot pattern in 1974.

An original model which is a basis of the male Bildungsroman is the German author Johann Wolfgang Goethe’s 19th century protagonist Wilhelm Meister, who embarks on a spiritual journey “… to seek self-realisation in the service of art…”(Buckley, 9). In his quest to attain self-development which is the primary goal of the genre, Meister encountered series of hardships before self-development.

Boes (2005), in his paper “Modernist Student and the Bildungsroman: A Historical Survey of Critical Trends” suggests that the genre, Bildungsroman, gained recent popularity from the publication of Jerome Buckley’s Season for Youth. The Bildungsroman from Dickens to Golding in 1974 (231-232). Jerome Buckley proposes a definition of the male (novel of development) Bildungsroman in his study.

Buckley presents a number of requirements in his work which he believes two or three of these requirements should be met before a novel can be classified as male Bildungsroman. Buckley outlines the typical plot of the male Bildungsroman as:

A child of some sensibility grows up in the country or in a provincial town, where he finds constraints, social and intellectual, placed upon the free imagination. His family especially his father, proves doggedly or flights of fancy, antagonistic to his ambitions, and quite impervious to the new ideas he has gained from unprescribed reading. His first schooling, even if not totally adequate, may be frustrating in so far as it may suggest options not available to him in his present settling. He, therefore, sometimes at a quite early age, leaves the repressive atmosphere of the relative innocence to make his way independently to the city. There his real education begins and his experience of urban life. The latter involves at least two love affairs or sexual encounters, one debasing, one exalting and demands that in respect and others, the hero reappraises his values. By the time he has decided after painful soul-searching, the sort of accommodation to the modern world he can honestly make, he has left his adolescence behind and entered upon his maturity (17-18).

Buckley focused entirely on male novels of development neglecting the female novels of development; this neglect however produced criticism from feminist writers such Susan Bick 1978; Keri Mitchell 1996; Stella Bolaki 2011.


Originally, Bildungsroman was focused on the education of the male protagonists while female characters were susceptible.

This male-dominated genre was unsettled by women writers who consciously introduced female protagonists. This led to the emergence of what scholars characterized as the female Bildungsroman. Some female writers behind the introduction of this genre are Elizabeth Abel, Marianne Hirsch and Elizabeth Langland 1983; Esther klenbord Labovitz 1986.

Elizabeth Abel, Marianne Hirsch and Elizabeth Langland published The Voyage in Fictions of Female Development a collection of essay on the female novel of development in 1938 as a reaction to Buckley’s plot structure on a typical male Bildungsroman. Their essay was a reaction to the total neglect of women authors and precisely female protagonists in the traditional bildungsroman genre by Jerome Buckley. Their work is ground-breaking as well as a landmark of the female Bildungsroman genre. They emphatically state that “even the broadest definitions of the Bildungsroman presuppose a range of social options available only to men” (7).

The importance of women being able to write about life just as men have written about life from their own perspective has been a major concern of literary feminism from its outset.

The term, female Bildungsroman, was used by feminist critics in 1970s to describe coming-of-age novels introducing female protagonists. The literary genre (male Bildungsroman) depicted the suppressing and defeat of female self-rule, inventiveness, and coming-of-age by patriarchal dominance. The adaptation of the female Bildungsroman has proved a particularly vehicle for portraying and observing diverse and conflicted experiences of women in patriarchal society. The goal of these female writers is to shed more light on the need for self-improvement, self-expression and importance to adopt to different social circumstances in a world of patriarchal dominance.

According to Mary Anne Ferguson and Esther labovitz, the female Bildungsroman genre had not only had an upswing but gained recognition in the aftermath of the feminist movement of the 1970s. Labovitz argues that “… this new genre (female Bildungsroman) was made possible when “Bildung” became a reality for the fictional heroine in particular” (6-7). The study of the female Bildungsroman as posited by Lorna Ellis will lead to “… a more complex understanding of the genre as a whole and of the historical circumstances that produce it” (15). This advocated the importance of the genre in contemporary literature.

In 1979, Marianne Hirsch in her work “The Novel of Formation as Genre’ asserts that Bildungsroman extents its umbrella from German novels to British and French novels as well. Hirsch outline a set of categories “thematic and formal, which makes it possible to speak of the Bildungsroman as a European, rather than a purely German genre” (294). Hirsch adds that “the development of selfhood… is the primary concern of the novel of formation” (296). Her work has contributed in analysing the English bildungsroman.

The feminist critic, Susan Fraiman (1993) in her paper “Unbecoming Women: British Women and the Novel of Development” clearly observes that “for the male protagonist, marriage is not a goal so much as a record for having reached his goal; it symbolized his gratification”(129)gju

Fraiman argues that there are various reason for the choice of marriage for both the male and female protagonist. The male protagonist marries when he is a mature young man who has found his place in his society, while the female protagonist typically marries when she is still a young woman who has not yet found her place in her society.

Labovitz in “The Myth of the Heroine”: The Female Bildungsroman in the twentieth century states categorically that there is a valid female Bildungsroman structure as a reaction to the total neglect of the female protagonist in the traditional Bildungsroman genre. She points out that “… the period when the person works out questions of identity, career and marriage, it is a highly suggestive genre for studying formation character” (2). According to Labovitz, it is surprising to note that few novels depicting self-development of female protagonists were published way back in the 19th century, when the traditional Bildungsroman emerged.

Feminist movement changed the stereotypical role of women in the society therefore an opportunity for women writers to tell their stories from naivety to maturity.

The familiar evaluation of a young woman’s development that poses the question whether they can have an identity before they know whom they will marry and for whom they will make a home is a premise sharply challenged in the theatrical setting of the female Bildungsroman. For women writers as well there had to be a resolution between cultural pressure towards feminine duty and the independence and assertiveness that imaginative writing requires to fully realize a fictional heroine who goes through the process of developing an identity and a self (Labovitz, 7).

Labovitz writes that “Further, having located the female heroine in the Bildungsroman, one might understandably question whether an important contribution has been made to the tradition of the genre and to literature as a whole” (8). She affirms that; the introduction of the female Bildungsroman has been a great contribution to the traditional Bildungsroman since the goals of women may not represent that of the male bildungsroman and that it allows the female protagonist find solutions to what confronts her in the society.

Similarly, Julie Jivkin and Michael makes the same assertion in their literary theory: An Anthology published in 1998 that “(c) ontemporary feminist literary criticism begins as much in the women’s movement of the late 1960s and the early 1970s as it does in the academy”(765). This suggests however that the feminist movement aided in the emergence of the female bildungsroman.

According to Maier (2007), the protagonist leave his or her familiar environment and faces different surrounding that hold new environment, shapes the protagonists character and influences his or her “becoming ” as an individual in society with a secure self-formulated identity (318). She highlights agency, self-reflection and reintegration as major characteristic stages of the female bildungsroman.

Maier clearly argues that writing about the development of the female protagonist as against the male protagonist during the Victorian period meant writing about a girl undergoing personal development through growth, education and citenzry (319).

She further points out that aside the differences in the development of male and female protagonist, the two have clear similarities and these are both protagonists involvement in their own development, self-reflection and introspection and reintegration into society (318,319). She adds that the female bildungsroman is an “extension” of the traditional bildungsroman genre (320).


The Bildungsroman genre paved its way first in Europe and later throughout the world although it begun in Germany. The genre is no longer centred on European male or white women writers but also African writers.

Teresa Njoku (2001) affirms in her essay “ The Changing Contours of the Bildungsroman in Africa” that “though the term bildungsroman is German, narratives which deal with the development of a character and his society through the informal education process existed in Africa even before colonialism” (271).

The subject of growth and development of the female character is more prevalent in contemporary African literature than it was in the past. This situation is however as a result of the fact that the literary field was entirely dominated by male writers since there were relatively few number of African female writers.

African male writers somehow failed to project their female characters in their totality but resorted in portraying them as stereotype in their works. These female characters were often assigned roles limited to the home such as marriage, child bearing and motherhood. They were presented as submissive, docile, passive and timid and were self-satisfied accepting the traditional sexual roles assigned to them. Soyinka’s Ake, Rotimi’s The Gods are not to blame(1990), chinua Achebe’s Things fall apart or A man of the people (1964), Amu Djoleto’s Money Galore(1986), Kobina sekyi’s In the bindkards(1997) and many others are typical examples of such works.

This representation of the female protagonist by male writers was outweighed by the increase in the number of post-colonial women writers such as Bessie Head, Flora Nuopa, Mariama Ba, Buchi Emecheta, Ama Ata Aidoo, Efia suttherland, and Amma Darko. These female writers presents their female characters in sharp contrast to the works of these male writers. The female characters projected by these female writers are seen as assertive, complex decisive, resourceful and who in the end grow and develop to attain maturity and self-development.

In their paper “Amma Darko’s Contribution on Beyond the Horizon to Contemporary Gender portrayals, Zanou, Gbaguidi and Djosson believe that “African women began reconsidering their belief about patriarch. They realized that the inferior position they long occupied in patriarchal societies is not at all naturally but socially or culturally programmed (118). They posit that women started telling their stories by portraying out that their gender roles does not make them inferior to men and that such negative assumptions are inflicted on them by the assumption of patriarchy. They belief that women write to increase the awareness of female empowerment.

Frank (1981) argues that introduction of female characters in novels by female writers has overturn the stereotypical of the African woman who is “a shadow figure who hooves on the figures of the plot, suckling infants, cooking and plaiting hair” (14).

Helen chukwuma (1989) in her work “Positivism and the Female Crisis: Novels of Buchi Emecheta affirms that ‘ that timid, subservient, lack-lustre woman’ is replaced by ‘ a full wonder(sic) human being, rotational , individualistic and assertive fighting for claiming and keeping her own”(2).

Aidoo when asked by Adeola James in an interview in his book titled “In Their Own Voices: African Women Writers Talk” on her take on the issue that “men present women in their own image of them” argued that

“…if I write about strong women, it means I see them around. People have always assumed that to be feminine is to be silly and to be sweet. But I disagree .I hope that in being a woman writer, I have been faithful to the image of women as I see them around, strong women, women who are viable in their own right” and that ”traditionally a woman is supposed to be nothing more valid than a mother” (12&13).

The contemporary female protagonist is assertive and innovative as compared to the docile and naïve character portrayed in the works of male writers.

Female bildungsroman explores issues that were silent in the works of female writers in the past such sexuality, higher education, bodily charges and romance. The female protagonists in contemporary female African novels journey into a great world where they make do away with what dominated and restricted them.

Some post-colonial women writers have found the female Bildungsroman a potent genre that makes possible the explorations of gender power relations, female vulnerability, agency and the female protagonist’s growing awareness of the dynamics of domination exploitation and empowerment. It is within this context that Chimamanda Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus has been read as a post-colonial female Bildungsroman since it traces the emergence of the female protagonist, Kambili. The female Bildungsroman is a literary form of contesting patriarchal ideologies and practices while at the same time making possible, the experiences of women.

This study seeks to posit that the female protagonists of these two selected texts, Mara and Adah are impelled by their awakening consciousness to pursue freedom and self-fulfilment.

Thus this thesis seeks to focus on a critical reading of Darko’s Beyond the Horizon and Emecheta’s Second Class Citizen as female Bildungsroman.


Buchi Emecheta also known Florence Onyebuchi was born in Nigeria in the year 1944 and died in 2017. Emecheta gained international reputation as a major African novelist and Nigeria’s best known female writer despite her decision to live permanently in England since 1962. Emecheta was born to Igbo parents, Jeremy Nwabudinke and Alice Emecheta. Her father died when she was very young. Fortunately for Emecheta won a scholarship to attend the Methodist girls’ high school at the age of ten. She got married and had her first child at the age of seventeen after completing her studies at Methodist girls’ high school.

Emecheta immigrated to London to attend university and also to join her student husband whom she left at age twenty-two after their fifth child was born. She acquired a bachelor’s degree in sociology at the London University while raising her five children and writing at the same time. Emecheta started her career in writing in London. She was a part time lecturer at the University of London and a Senior Staff of the Arts Council of Great Britain. She was also a member of the Advisory Committee to the Home Secretary of Race and Equality.

Emecheta shared the problems she encountered in 1968, 1969 and 1970, trying to persuade publishers to read her work. She was enthused after persuading the editor of the New Statesman, Richard Crossman, to accept her works which later was published as a column called “Life in the Ditch”. She won a number of awards including Best Black Writer in Britain in 1979. She wrote twelve novels, a number of children’s books, two plays which one was published on BBC and the other by Granada. She also has an autobiographical work based on her personal experiences from childhood up to her life as writer, in north London.

Taiwo, author Of Female Novelists of Modern African (1984) which discusses the novels of fourteen African women novelists, affirms that Emecheta’s works have been translated into several European languages and most of them are used in undergraduate and post-graduate courses. In the Ditch (1972) and Second-Class Citizen (1974), which is a sequel to the first novel are autobiographical novels which portrays Adah’s miserable experiences as a wife and mother of five..

The Bride Price (1976) and The Slave Girl (1978) deal with topics of social and cultural significance. These novels portray some of the physical hardships and emotional torture that African women who flout the norms of their society go through in attempt to survive. Even though Aku-nna is aware of the consequences of a relationship with a man of slave ancestry, she goes ahead to elope with and marry this man called Chike. But she dies in childbirth and her death is attributed to the fact that her bride price was not paid in time. The Slave Girl, on the other hand, is about a girl called Ojebata, who is beloved by her parents because she is their only surviving daughter. Unfortunately, at the age of seven, she loses both parents and her own brother sells her into slavery for a paltry sum of money to enable him to take part in age-group dance. The novel discusses her life as a slave for a good nine years, which is combinations of joy and misery. With the death of her master, she is somehow free to return to her home town and to become a wife of the man who is prepared to marry her after clearing her debts as a slave. But Ojebata is not completely free since she still regards her husband as her new master. This novel emphasizes the negative effect of slavery on an individual.

Joys of Motherhood (1979) is one of Buchi Emecheta’s complex works and it has the same setting as the last two works above. “The novel, which is told against the background of the Second World War”, centres on the realities of motherhood and the plight of the childless woman in African society. It emphasizes the need for a woman to be fertile, but more essentially, to give birth to sons. The subject of polygamy and its demerits are all discussed in this novel. The story is mainly about two people Nnu Ego, a chief’s daughter and her husband, Nnaife, who is employed as a domestic servant to a Whiteman in Lagos. This is her second, after a previous childless marriage in the village. She succeeds in giving birth to nine children, out of which seven survive, but unfortunately, they are all females. Thus, she is left to care for her children alone and under very poor conditions, with her husband drafted into the war. When he returns from the war, he compounds her problems by inheriting the wives of his dead brother, including the other women he marries, because he wants a son. The pathetic thing is that Nnu Ego dies “a lonely and forsake death, unattended by her own children”. The novel advocates the recognition of female children since they too can contribute to the development of society like male children.

Destination Biafra (1981) is a fictional presentation of the Nigerian civil war of 1959 to the secession of Biafra. The work deals with “political mismanagement, civil commotion, personal and communal greed, unabated selfishness and corrupt leadership which only leads to social chaos, deprivation and death.” women are given prominence in this novel as well as in Emecheta’s other novels. For instance, Debbie plays a number of decisive roles. She is the spoilt and well-educated daughter of a corrupt politician. As the novel progresses, she is retransformed into a loyal citizen prepared to fight for her liberation and that of the entire society.

In all these works, Emecheta show that there is a link between traditional and modernity. She portrays traditional practices as adequate for African societies, but at the same time, there is call to make the necessary social adjustment at the appropriated time, especially when tradition stands in the way of progress.

Above all, Emecheta’s novels constitute themselves into a strong support for feminists’ ideals of justice and equality, although she denies being a feminist. Emecheta in her 1986 essay “Feminism with a small letter “f” states that

“I chronicle the little happenings of everyday life. Being a woman, and African born, I see things through an African woman’s eyes. I chronicle the little happenings in the lives of the African women I know. I did not know that by doing so I was going to be called a feminist. But if I am now a feminist then I am an African feminist with a small “f”. In my books I write about families because I still believe in families. I write about women who try very hard to hold their family together until it becomes utterly impossible (p 555).( cited by umeh, 1996,xxxi)

It is worthy to note that in almost all the above- mentioned reviews, Buchi Emecheta is described as an advocated for the emancipation of women. In almost all her work, her voice is a call to women to fight out their survival as individuals. She does not believe that men are better than women and therefore have a right to dominate them. Instead, she expects each individual, male or female, to act in freedom and dignity.

Furthermore, Buchi Emecheta addresses the issues of women in war, love affairs, slavery, family life and politics. Buchi Emecheta denies being a feminist, but at the same, she declares in support of women: “we should be respected in our different roles, we should not be regarded as appendages of men, but as individuals.”

Amma Darko is a Ghanaian female writer who over the years is considered as the most established and accomplished contemporary female writer after the likes of Ama Ata Aidoo and Efua T Sutherland. Amma Darko was born in Tamale, Ghana in 1956. Amma Darko was brought up by her adoptive parents who resided in Accra. Darko studied in Kumasi where she was awarded diploma in 1980. She spent five years in Germany after graduating from the University of Science and Technology, Kumasi. She worked at Technology Consultancy Centre in Kumasi before migrating to Germany where had to take on menial work in order to survive. Darko studied in taxation after she returned to Ghana in 1987. Darko is married and lives with her family in Tamale. She is currently a tax inspector.

Darko even though a contemporary female writer has, written quite a number of novels. Her first novel is the novel under study, Beyond the Horizon. Beyond the Horizon was originally written in English but first published in Germany as Der Verkaufte Traum in 1991. Beyond the Horizon was ranked among the Top Twelve of the 1995 Feminist Book Festival in Britain. It sheds more light on the plight of a young Ghanaian woman who immigrates to German to join her husband.

The Housemaid (1998), her second novel, explores complex relationships. She portrays the plight of women in their immediate society. Darko affirms this by telling readers that “In Ghana, if you come into the world a she, acquire the habit of praying. And master it. Because you will need it, desperately, as old age pursues you, and mother nature’s hand approaches you with a wry smile-to daub you with wrinkles(3). Issues such as superstition, greed and corruption, and ignorance are highlighted as well.

Her third novel, Faceless (2003) tells the story of street children and the challenges they encounter. She explores issues such as child-trafficking, rape, child abuse, immorality, parental neglect. Darko portrays the daily life of street children through her main character, Fofo, who struggles to survive in a society dominated by men. Fofo despite painful experiences strife to attain self-independence in a patriarchal world through the network of women

Not Without Flowers (2007), her fourth novel projects infidelity in relationships and marriages and its effects on the individual especially, women. Childlessness, madness, streetism and HIV/AIDS are some common effects of infidelity discussed in the novel. Issues such as motherhood, polygamy and childlessness are major source of unhappiness of women in the novel.

Darko is indeed a great female writer who raises consciousness of issues concerning women and advocates for the total development of women through her novels. Darko affirms this in an interview with Raymond Ayinne (2004) that

We’ve started writing from our point of view because, for a while you were for us….if we are writing, probably there is some pain that has to come out. And I think rather than take it as male-bashing, you must take it as a better understanding of the women folk of Africa…. You were always portraying us as all enduring, all giving mothers and that is the attitude we find in males… but I don’t want to be all giving all the time, I don’t want to be all enduring, I want to be angry, I want to react” (p 2). Darko through her statement expresses her displeasure about patriarchal dominance which seeks to undermine women.


Darko’s first novel Beyond the Horizon is a story of a female protagonist, Mara, approaching middle age who traces her story back through her youth, acquiring understanding and knowledge through these rebuilding of memory. Beyond the Horizon gives an account of the exploitation of women both in Africa and Europe and tells of an immigrant, Mara, who having travelled to Germany to find a paradise is betrayed by her husband and forced into prostitution. Mara the protagonist at the beginning of the novels allows herself to be manipulated by patriarchal issues but eventually discovers her potentials and find herself. Mara’s prostitution is a criticism of social or economic systems that allow citizens to engage in prostitution because of lack of employment or poverty. The novel seeks to criticise pornography films shown to the public in various communities. The protagonist moves from a stage of ignorance to a stage of knowing by gaining self-awareness through the networks of women. Mara explores her femininity as she moves from the stage of naivety to self-awareness as she expresses her ascendency in the community. She set herself from what oppresses her and make independent decisions in the end.

Second Class Citizen is Buchi Emecheta’s second novel in which she discusses the marital problems of her protagonist, Adah .She highlights Adah’s decision to leave her husband after years of an unhealthy marriage. Adah does not only see her husband as the creator of her unhappiness and problems but she also expresses her displeasure toward the white race whom she feels has some preconceived opinion towards her, by the fact she is black. In short, Second Class Citizen discusses Adah’s attempt to survive in spite of all these challenges.


As an approach to literature, Bildungsroman has been applied to literary texts especially western texts and quite recently African texts. It is from this review that I limit my work to two African female writers; Amma Darko (Ghanaian) and Buchi Emecheta (Nigerian).

Over the years, scholars have examined Darko’s novel, Beyond the Horizon, and Emecheta’s novel, Second Class Citizen from different perspectives.

Amma Darko’s Beyond the Horizon has attracted a lot of critical responses which revolve around thematic issues such as pornography and prostitution (Frias, 2008); immorality (Silue, 2017); resistance (Umezurike, 2015); sex trafficking (Kammampoal, 2017); and male bashing (Adjei, 2009). Others have examined the style used by the author (Asempasah & Sam, 2016; Higgins, 2007; Odamtten, 2007).

Similarly, a lot of critics have examined Buchi Emechat’s Second Class Citizen from different angles. Thematic issues such as self-actualization (Mfune-Mwanjakwa, 2006); women’s solidarity (Barfi, Kohzadi and Azizmohammed, 2015);

While these studies have been insightful, there is as yet no serious discussion of these novels as female Bildungsroman. This is surprising given that these novels trace the experiences of these female protagonists, Mara and Adah. Focusing on these novel as female Bildungsroman will open up other interpretative possibilities. More importantly, it will clarify the relationship among voice, experience and character growth. Thus, this study seeks to explore Beyond the Horizon and Second Class Citizen as female Bildungsroman by focusing specifically on Mara and Adah’s growth from a naïve young girls into mature characters who are able to redefine themselves. Beyond dwelling on specific acts that characterise Mara and Adah’s agency, the study will also pay attention to how narrative perspective and voice foreground Mara and Adah’s growth.

Updated: May 03, 2023
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Feminism in Bildungsroman literature. (2022, Jun 06). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/female-bildungsroman-literary-style-feminist-literary-criticism-and-women-s-movement-in-literature-essay

Feminism in Bildungsroman literature essay
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