World’s Fair and the Bildungsroman Genre


World’s Fair by E. L. Doctorow (winner of the 1985 National Book Award) is a novel strongly influenced by the bildungsroman genre. It’s young protagonist, Edgar, must navigate the path to adulthood through the turbulent relationship of his parents. His father represents the impulse to spontaneity and freedom, while his mother represents order and proper socialization into the community. These are the two drive usually represented in the bildungsroman. Edgar must find his place, balanced between the two impulses, while the New York World’s Fair represents the possibility (but not guarantee of) of a better future through technological innovation.

Edgar’s world outside of his parents’ relationship becomes increasingly disturbing and complicated as his understanding of his surroundings grows. He is from a Jewish family and begins to understand the situation of Jews in Germany, is himself harassed by Nazi sympathizing hoodlums and see his family economic situation deteriorate. Meanwhile, he begins to understand responsibilities to his family, blooms into a sexual being and sees hope for a better future through the technology pavilion at the World’s Fair.

As the novel leaves off, Edgar is still navigating his surroundings. Unlike a classical bildungsroman, the protagonist does not totally finish his development, but continues to grow into the future past the scope of the novel. The final scenes show Edgar creating a time capsule for future people, but also metaphorically suggesting a continuance of development for himself, and for American society.

Such a great novel!

Click here for my review of World’s Fair



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