A Bildungsroman tracks the coming-of-age of a sensitive person seeking the answers to life’s many questions, in the hopes that the answers will lead to his racking up experience. Common Bildungsromans include Candide by Voltaire, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, and The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. However, these pale in comparison to the true Bildungsroman, Naruto. Naruto (in its manga form primarily, as Bildungsroman describes to a literary form) is a comprehensive treatise on the coming-of-age novel, otherwise known as a Bildungsroman.
A Bildungsroman, as I said, always begins with a young character who is generally sensitive and unsure of himself. Often, they begin with a tragedy that deeply affects the character on an emotional level, leaving a void he will try to fill throughout his travels and life experiences. This description is identical to Naruto’s own beginning: Naruto was born to Minato and Kushina Uzumaki. Directly following his birth, Naruto’s mom, Kushina, was attacked by a masked man, Tobi who released the Nine-Tails fox from inside of her, which he then used to destroy their village called Konoha. After releasing the Nine-Tails from Tobi’s control, Minato and Kushina realize the only way to stop the Nine-Tails all together is to seal it within Naruto. The Nine-Tails’ power, or chakra, was too great to seal into Naruto, an infant, Minato sacrificed himself to split the fox’s chakra and seal one half within Naruto. After doing this, Minato and Kushina, both badly injured from protecting Naruto from the Nine-Tails, died due to their battle wounds. Thus, Naruto is left not only an orphan, but is shunned by a majority of his village of Konoha for being a jinchūriki – basically the vessel for the Nine-Tails. Now a sensitive, socially isolated young boy, Naruto’s journey to fulfill his mother’s dying wish of him being regarded as a hero was off to a rough start, as the majority of Konoha ostracized him for being the cause of the destruction of the village. However, his perseverance and growth as a person allows him to follow through to completion in his coming-of-age quest.
During a Bildungsroman, the protagonist undergoes a journey where he gains maturity, though not without adversity and difficulty. This psychological and ethical journey provides an insight into the depth of character that the protagonist contains, and allows the reader to empathize with the protagonist on a more personal level, as its realism attaches us to the character and the stages of his life in order to view his change. After this hardship, Naruto’s life journey becomes a mission to understand society’s pattern of hatred and to break that cycle of hatred. He is stubborn and adamant about doing things on his own, but later learns that he can trust in the strength and support his friends provide for him.
A Bildungsroman almost always ends with the character’s own self-realization and enlightenment in his own sense of belonging. Thus, a Bildungsroman is often used as an educational and philosophical text of great importance to teens and young adults, as its message of pursuing a higher goal and maturing to find a sense of tranquility within themselves is a key factor in the real life coming of age that we all go through. Naruto is that philosophical text, reaching millions of readers to educate on the values of individuality and acceptance.
Some common characters in a Bildungsroman besides the protagonist (Naruto) are also portrayed in this text. For example, the unrequited love is Sakura, the evil authority figure is the Akatsuki, the kind mentor is Kakashi or Jiraiya, and the best friend is Sasuke. Naruto himself exemplifies common Bildungsroman protagonist tropes as he represents the orphan as well as the misfit or outcast. He is sent off to train rigorously with his teacher, Jiraiya, fulfilling the ever so common coming of age trope where the protagonist is sent off to work somewhere.
Basically, Naruto checks off every single box of what the essential Bildungsroman should embody. It covers all of the common tropes, backstories, plot devices, themes, and characters, whereas most other Bildungsromans only contain one of these features. So the next time you use Jane Eyre to illustrate the three-part plot structure in a Bildungsroman, look to the true paradigm of all coming-of-age novels and turn to Naruto. I would like to thank my sister, Juliet, for suggesting this topic.