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Comparative Literature Commons

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European Languages and Societies

Union College

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Desire In The Bildungsroman: Construction And Pursuit Of An Ideal Self Through The Ideal Other, Ethan Watson Jun 2018

Desire In The Bildungsroman: Construction And Pursuit Of An Ideal Self Through The Ideal Other, Ethan Watson

Honors Theses

The Bildungsroman, or “novel of education,” has remained popular since Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship. I examine this novel, as well as Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations, and Walter Moers’s Rumo & His Miraculous Adventures, focusing specifically on the relationships between the three male protagonists and the women that they encounter throughout their lives. Using the theories of psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, literary critic René Girard, and feminist philosopher Judith Butler, I draw parallels between and contribute to the scholarly conversation of all three works (or in the case of Moers's recent fantasy, Rumo, begin the critical conversation). All three protagonists mirror the women that they encounter, creating visions of ideal selves that they strive to become. The characters’ progress and relationships, though different, all exemplify Lacan’s Mirror Stage theory, as well as the theories of desire in Girard and Butler; the latter two theories take Lacan’s ideas further and contribute to my comparison of characteristics in these three coming of age novels. I argue that, no matter the length of their journey or the final results of their relationships, successfully completing the Mirror Stage leads the protagonists to become their ideal selves