Bildungsroman Anyone?

Bildungsroman Anyone?

The busy summer was coming to an end.  At the theater in May the Duke had gotten things rolling in the War Wagon. Then the summer action was perpetuated by Lee Marvin et al in the Dirty Dozen, and kicked into high gear by Connery, back again as Bond in You Only Live Twice. But perhaps it was To Sir with Love that held more resonance for me at this time, as well as the other teacher flick Up the Down Staircase, for reasons that I will go into forthwith.

I was switching from West Junior High to Brockton High School, situated right in downtown Brockton. So instead of turning right, in front of our apartment on Spring Street and heading west, I turned left and went east into the noonday sun.

For you see, there were too many students going to Brockton High at this time and too little school to go around. So the solution offered was to split the day, the upperclassmen had the mornings and we lowly sophomores, the afternoons.

The bulging at the seams school was actually two buildings. The “new” building dated from 1912, the old from 1906. The less ancient annex had an interesting feature, at least to me, a gym with a balcony that held a circular running track. And just as in the last film mentioned there were one-way staircases. The end of period bells would signal a rising tide of students that would flood the halls and stairways on the way to their next classes.

One of my destinations was in contemporary history, in which the pros and cons, merits and demerits of the then raging Viet Nam war were discussed and debated. It’s all a dim memory compared to my class in English Literature.

For English Lit we had a young teacher. She was possibly an intern or a student teacher fresh from college.  I make this pronouncement based on her decision to instruct us in that literary category – the Bildungsroman. One had the sense that it was something she had recently studied herself, and about which she was quite passionate.

So besides some time spent with the Bard in King Lear, she lectured us on the theory and characteristics of the “book of education.” The protagonist of the Bildungsroman was usually a youth just embarking on the voyage of life, and it follows his (or her) growth to maturity. As examples we were assigned Hardy’s Jude the Obscure, Golding’s Free Fall, Butler’s the Way of All Flesh, and Dickens’ Great Expectations.

Great Expectations, hands down, was my favorite. Pip, Estella, Miss Haversham, Joe Gargery and the other denizens of Dickens’ book live vividly in my mind from that day to this. It was years before I caught David Lean’s version, which served to solidify my appreciation for the original.

The Bildungsroman is also called a “coming of age” work, a terminology that often classifies a certain type of film. On this score, I would state that both To Sir with Love and Up the Down Staircase would be Bildungsroman movies. But what about the other films that I have listed for this time, they were action films, where would they be categorized? They are certainly part of a genre, but I think there are bigger overarching ideas that apply.

I believe they are both complementary in what they reveal about our desires. The one, the action film, uncovers in us that longing for a Savior God, the one who comes with justice and judgement and puts all things to right; the other, the coming of age story points out our desire to change, to become better.

Eternity is in our hearts, and humanity gropes after it. Discernment is important. Our desires, our focus needs to be on what is True.