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A coming-of-age story

In literature, there are many themes that we find over and over in many cultures and from many periods in time. One of these reoccurring themes is the “coming-of-age”, when a young person goes through the transition from childhood to adulthood and has a significant life experience. It is clear that these coming of age stories are crucial component of our self-conceptions and representations.

We all know lots of “coming-of-age” stories. We’ve read them in books, seen them at the movies and on TV, and in plays and operas. Usually, these stories are of the heartwarming variety. A young person confronts the frightening prospect of growing older, leaving youth for adulthood, and dealing with a world far more complicated than he or she had thought it was. Sure there’s pain to be encountered along the way, but in most of these stories the person eventually sees maturity as a reward – and painful growth as a passage into a new world filled with prospects and promise.

But what if the new, “grown up” world seems bleaker than the old one? I think, when entering adulthood, instead of grieving over the loss of youth, we should revel in newfound possibilities. The “coming-of-age” story then is not a tragedy, but a heartwarming tale of growth and fulfillment.

One reason for the popularity of this theme is simply that it is a universal experience. Everyone, no matter when or where they were born, has to grow up at some point, and being able to read about someone else’s experience can provide young readers with something that they can relate to, and it provides older readers with memories of the past.

The teen years are, of course, when the coming-of-age process is most obvious, when young people are perched precariously on the brink between childhood and adult responsibilities. It is then that most young adults are making decisions, which will have tremendous influence on the shape of their lives to come. This reminds me of the story called “Dawn” where the main character, Barnsey, experienced his coming-of-age.

As he boarded a bus to travel to his grandmother’s, 13 year-old Barnsey’s worst fears were realized. He had to sit next to someone “weird”, an adventurous girl with nose rings and a Mohawk. She was about twenty and dressed all in black. Barnsey’s first reaction to Dawn was negative. He had a prejudice against her because of her outward appearance. Later, he had to realize that he “shouldn’t judge a book by its cover”.

They were listening music, but Dawn liked gentle, contemplative music, while Barsney enjoyed hard rock. But both were willing to listen to the other’s tape and allowed themselves to enjoy the new experience. Despite their different taste in music, she and Barnsey became “mates”.

Barnsey was attracted to Dawn’s personality. She had a British accent and used lots of slang, and she was traveling all around the world. Her whole character symbolized independence and freedom. In addition, her spontaneity was the opposite of Barnsey’s parents’ careful planning.

Dawn called Barnsey “mate”, which means that she considered him a friend somehow. By the end of the trip, Barnsey understood that friendship is one of the most precious things in life. He learned from Dawn that looking through the eyes of a friend could open up a whole new world.

At Christmas, Barnsey had to face up to the fact that his parents would divorce. First, it was quite unconceivable to him, then later everything was suddenly clear to him. He could hear in his head all the signs and hints stretching back through the months – how far, he wasn’t sure. Anger piled up in his heart, because nobody had told him anything.

In his despair, he left the house. He wanted to go to Vancouver and find Dawn because he was tired of the “rubbish” surrounding his parents’ divorce. He also wanted to find her because she was the embodiment of freedom, spontaneity, and self-assurance. At the bus terminal, he found an unfamiliar tape with a piece of note in his backpack. It was from Dawn. The memory of Dawn and her gift of tape helped Barnsey cope with his parents’ divorce. She gave him hope for a new beginning.

Although Barnsey spent only a brief time with Dawn, she became a powerful influence in his life. The writer reinforced this influence by using the symbolism of her name. The word “Dawn” can be associated with sun rising, new beginnings, and renewal. Her friendliness and spontaneity evoke fresh beginnings.

Generally, all of living is a process of coming-of-age, of reconciling the essence of the inner self with one’s outer being. Without any doubt, Barnsey is also a coming-of-age story. He acquiesced in the unchangeable fact that his life wouldn’t be the same anymore. He moved from adolescence to adulthood with the capability of managing his parents’ divorce.

My coming-of-age story is different than Barnsey’s. Fortunately, I didn’t have to deal with a broken up family, but I also have to learn quite early to be on my own. My parents sent me to an excellent high school, which meant that I had to live in a dorm. I was only 14 years old. I remember, how timid and deeply touched I was standing in front of the building. I didn’t exactly know what would happen to me, and my life in “my new home”. I had plenty of freedom, but I also had to learn how to use it. During these years I became an adult, who could solve most of her problems on her own. My life then had many pitfalls, but finally I became independent.

In our own lives, we are constantly trying to find our place in the world and discover what our purpose here is. We have our dreams and our desires, and we want to fit those into the world. But how does our view of ourselves, and our place in the world change as we grow and gain life experience? Coming-of-age stories give us the opportunity to discover those answers through the experiences of the characters. Barnsey, the young character of “Dawn” is one example, who matured to understand something about the world he lives in, and his role in it.

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