The Coming-of-Age Novel
The Coming-of-Age Novel, also known as a Bildungsroman, tells the story of a young person discovering their true self and the nature of the world as they come into adulthood. Other examples include Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger and Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. The Adventures of Augie March is arguably a good example of this genre, because it begins with Augie as a young adolescent and follows him for some twenty years, well into adulthood. In the course of the novel, Augie learns about the nature of work, love, and identity, and comes to his own conclusions on each of these themes.
The Picaresque Novel
The Adventures of Augie March is also arguably a picaresque novel. Picaresque novels usually consist of the adventures of a rambling trickster from a low social class. They are comic novels, in which the hero often has many romances and narrow escapes from situations of his or her own making. In such stories, the author uses the wandering rascal’s interactions with people from all walks of life in order to comment on society. Augie certainly fits the description of a picaresque hero well, except for his sincerity and kindheartedness, which is often the cause of his trouble. Bellow’s title, with its reflection of the title of Mark Twain’s picaresque, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, suggests his intention to write such a novel. Consequently, the eagle is a symbol in the novel.
Point of View
Perhaps what is most striking stylistically about The Adventures of Augie March is the utterly distinct voice of the narrator, Augie March. The story is told in the first person, from Augie’s point of view. What is so conspicuous about Augie as a narrator is his constant use of working-class, Jewish, Chicago vernacular—in other words, the local dialect of Augie’s world. But Bellow makes Augie even more compelling as a narrator by designing him as a self-taught student of classical literature and then sprinkling his speech with often obscure references to history and mythology. Armed with this voice, the novel tumbles out of Augie in a torrent of words. Riding an elevator in Chicago’s City Hall, for example, Augie notices ‘‘bigshots and operators, commissioners, grabbers, heelers, tipsters, hoodlums, wolves, fixers, plaintiffs, flatfeet, men in Western hats and women in lizard shoes and fur coats.’’ With Augie as the narrator, the novel becomes an epic lexicon of American English.
Source Credits: Sara Constantakis, Novels for Students: Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Novels, Volume 33, Gale-Cengage Learning, 2010