Merriam-Webster Word of the Day: Bildungsroman

The Merriam-Webster Word of the Day is bildungsroman. Read on for what it means, how it’s used, and more.

What It Means

bildungsroman is a novel about the moral and psychological growth of the main character.

// She was thrilled to discover that the next book on the syllabus was a bildungsroman by her favorite author.


“[Brendan] Slocumb’s debut novel, a musical bildungsroman nestled within a literary thriller, centers itself on the theft and ransom of a rising star’s priceless violin—once a modest family heirloom until an appraisal reveals its true worth—just days before the prestigious Tchaikovsky Competition.” — Miguel Salazar, The New York Times, 4 Dec. 2022

Did You Know?

Bildungsroman is the combination of two German nouns: Bildung, meaning “education,” and Roman, meaning “novel.” (Nouns in German are always capitalized.) Fittingly, a bildungsroman is a novel that deals with the formative years of the main character, and in particular, with the character’s psychological development and moral education. The bildungsroman usually ends on a positive note, with the protagonist’s foolish mistakes and painful disappointments over, and a life of usefulness ahead. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe‘s late 18th-century work Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship is often cited as the classic example of a bildungsroman. Though the term is primarily applied to novels, in recent years some English speakers have begun to apply it to films that deal with a youthful character’s coming-of-age.

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