The “Initiation Stories” are a familiar literary concept. The bildungsroman, a coming-of-age story, is an often-read style of text. In fact, the bildungsroman and the initiation story are both incredibly similar in their themes of growing up. Both include pursuits of growth and learning, as well as development of character. Most importantly, they both involve the trials and tribulations of youth as they progress through varied circumstances. Where an initiation story seems to differ, however, is in its short length and focus on one major plot point.
In defining initiation stories as such, they may be receiving an oversimplification. However, there definitely seems to be some sort of contrasting trait which sets the style apart from a bildungsroman. To support the claim, there are several examples in the section of The Norton Introduction to Literature.
In Stepdaughters, the plot focuses on a timespan of around two to three years (No, I am not going to go back and check). Yet this passage of time is summarized succinctly within seven pages of text. The author accomplishes this by focusing on one key element throughout the story; that is, the daughter’s involvement with shot-put. Emotion and thoughts are conveyed, but the lengthy extrapolation and development of a bildungsroman are left out.
In Gorilla, My Love, the main character presents a set of circumstances which all tie into the theme of youth against establishment, and the underestimation of children and their aptitude. Again, as in Stepdaughters, the plot covers a span of time yet is covered in a few pages. The key focuses, the words and descriptions which leave the most impact and meaning, are the ones that stay. In fact, an initiation story may very well be a trimmed-down (heavily trimmed-down) bildungsroman. They are the results of condensing a novel into a short story.
Now, this may have been obvious to many readers of the “Initiation Stories” section. However, one of the included works does not fit this “condensed” category: A & P. Instead of featuring a lengthy timeline of events, A & P transpires over a few minutes, half an hour at maximum. Nary has a bildungsroman boasted a novel-length plot which covers just thirty minutes. What, then, can be concluded on the matter? Well, A & P, though it covers a brief instant of time, features a relatively altering life experience for the main character. The author does not divulge on the events. Rather, a critical moment in youth is chronicled over a brief set of pages.
The safest route to follow in this reaction is to determine that bildungsroman and initiation stories are, in essence, the same. Bildungsroman may possess a more attractive name, and may be longer in length, but the two styles focus on the same material. So, then what has been accomplished with this writing? Very little, but a fairly certain conclusion has been reached on the nature of initiation stories. Though lesser in size, they contain the same emotionally provoking topics and ideas as their novel counterparts.