The short story under analysis is “Men and Women”, by Claire Keegan. The narrator is a young girl in her teens, who reminisces her childhood, particularly, the Christmas of 1979 and the New Year’s Eve when she was nine years old. The literary piece under consideration is an example of how it is possible to apply the concept of Bildungsroman to a piece of prose less than a novelette or a novel.
Typically, in a Bildungsroman, the main character is an extraordinary personality who goes through some unusual events. This aspect of Bildungsroman reflects in the suggested short story in the following way. The girl, who is the narrator and the protagonist of the short story, comes from a family of farmers. They own a house and a piece of land. They keep cattle, hens, and, presumably, some pets. In the very beginning it is evident that the girl and her elder brother fight occasionally, but it is quite natural for their age. What strikes more is the realization that the parents are no longer happy together. At this point, it is essential to take a small detour to make the following remarks. According to the notions of narrator and narrator’s voice, children are typical representatives of the so-called unreliable narrators. The protagonist of the short story “Men and Women” by Claire Keegan is a little girl, impressionable, emotionally unstable, and psychologically immature. For this reason, it is possible to assume that the author employs the principle of a first-person narration. Even though it is clear that another principle that the writer uses is that of retrospection, the narrator can still in no way be considered omniscient.
Writers and theorists of literature have been differentiating between Bildungsroman and Kunstlerroman starting from approximately the first half of the twentieth century. In other words, the notions of Künstlerroman and Bildungsroman have originated in Modernism. Modernism represents a unique era in a cultural, scientific, historical, political, and economical way. The outcomes of what had happened at that time have had crucial effects on the present. The principal difference between Bildungsroman and Kunstlerroman consists in the following. Bildungsroman is any piece of prose that tells the story of character(s)’s coming of age. Kunstlerroman, on the other hand, is a piece of prose that tells the story of a person’s formation and self-actualization as an artist. Clearly, “Men and Women” by Claire Keegan can be regarded as a piece of literature that bears the features of Bildungsroman.
The following characteristics of Bildungsroman are present in the short story and will be discussed. Initiation is the essential attribute of the process of coming of age. It is widely believed that the Modernist writers used to employ the notion of initiation. In the short story by Claire Keegan, New Year’s Eve, which is an extraordinary event in itself, can be considered a ceremony of initiation. Epiphany as a literary and psychological term was introduced by James Joyce. According to him, epiphany is a feeling that strikes a person within split seconds, after which things seem no longer the same. Epiphany is a sort of revelation that implies a person’s becoming more stable emotionally and more mature psychologically. In Claire Keegan’s short story, the protagonist comes to an epiphany at the very end of the short story.
Another possible way of interpreting the short story Men and Women suggests that the notion of Bildungsroman applies to the protagonist’s mother as it may be her who comes to a moral epiphany. It is possible that her husband subjects her and the children to moral abuse every now and then. With regard to this fact, the literary piece under analysis can be viewed as the story of how the protagonist’s mother attempted to escape from moral abuse and rebelled against it. Thus, it is possible to assume that not only the main character but also she goes through moral epiphany as well.
Typical characteristic of Bildungsroman is an open ending. “Men and Women” by Claire Keegan ends on a cliffhanger in the sense that the author leaves up to the readers to decide what happens next with the family. Somehow, it seems that the author gives the readers a hint that the time would come for the family when the parents might have to get a divorce. This is the worst case scenario, of course. Ideally, the parents should have talked to one other. Apparently, there once was a time in that family when parents used to understand each other and their children. By the moment, the audience acquainted with the characters of the short story, all that the characters are capable of is trusting their own instincts. It is a pity that the things could not stay the way that they used to be. On the other hand, change, moral decay, despair, and misunderstanding represent the conflict of the short story.
There is a very short video (an excerpt from a future film, perhaps) available online based on Claire Keegan’s short story. It preserves all features of the story and the idea of Bildungsroman. Judging from the episodes, one can consider the video clip as artistically perfect. The video fragment is entirely compatible with the aesthetics of the author of the short story. The aesthetics of Claire Keegan, in its turn, accords with the aesthetics of the British Isles. Love of nature, sternness and simplicity of sceneries and people’s characters are discernible throughout the short story and the fragment of the film. The film may omit some details that are present in the text, however, it is, by all means, an artistically perfect interpretation of the story itself. Taking into consideration the video clip, it is possible to assume that the makers of the film have managed to deduce the intention of the author of the short story, as well as the message(s) the story conveys. On the other hand, the film is a mere variant of interpretation of the source material, one of the infinite numbers of others. All things considered, the short story and the film based on it have very much in common.
Apparently, “Men and Women” by Claire Keegan, apart from being a story of coming of age, implies the broad social context, which may also occur in a Bildungsroman. In other words, the writer in her work addresses some of the most pressing social issues, such as domestic violence, gender equality, equal educational opportunities, exploitation, oppression, child-parent relationships, and generation gap. The author refers to the problem of domestic violence as it is possible to assume that her husband bullies his wife and children. Claire Keegan refers to the questions of gender equality and equal job opportunities as in the short story it is specified that the only person whose future is more or less certain and happy is the main character’s elder brother. The author reflects on the problems of exploitation and oppression by creating an image of an authoritative and commanding husband and father. Lastly, the problems of child-parent relationships and generation gap are fairly self-explanatory. In the short story, two generations live under the same roof. Clearly, it is normal that the conflicts occur. Hence, what matters is whether or not the characters are capable of deflating their egos for the sake of happiness of other family members. As far as the question of child-parent relationships is concerned, the narration depicts the model that should not be tolerated meaning that nearly all characters in the story behave improperly. Normally, the very idea of a family denies abuse. The proper atmosphere to bring up children and to help them to become independent, free-thinking, happy personalities is the atmosphere of peace, quietness, and proper respect. Parents should be the role models of a virtuous life to their children.
In conclusion, it is important to say that “Men and Women” by Claire Keegan is an example of Bildungsroman. The piece under consideration tells a story of a little girl’s coming of age. Apart from that, the author uses the principle of moral epiphany. The short story is neat, expressive, vivid, and masterfully composed. “Men and Women” by Claire Keegan is an allusive, reflexive, partly, existential work of literature. The narrator of the story is a young girl who reminisces about her childhood. There is a short film based on the story available online. The film and the short story have very much in common, yet each constitutes an independent, separate, and autonomous work of art. Both works are similar in terms of the filmmakers and the author’s aesthetics. In this respect, it is significant to point out that nature and sceneries play an important role in both works. Hence, it is possible to assume that both the film and the short story accord with the notion of Bildungsroman. “Men and Women” by Claire Keegan is conclusive proof that the principle of Bildungsroman can be incorporated in literary work less than a novel or a novelette.