The novel of formation is associated with social and biographical dimensions. The first aspect is revealed through the school of life and experience, which is acquired by a protagonist, whereas the biographic one is revealed through the representation and formation of an individual in the light of certain social changes. Moreover, the works of the mentioned genre reveal the quest-type of the plot and portray the pursuit of sense of existence in the community as well as authentic and moral values which promote and advance the inner capacities. To provide an example and explanation of the term, it is possible to refer to the novel Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson. The work narrates about two sisters whose education has been imposed on their grandmother because their parents died. Their aunts participate in upbringing as well. The family lives in a small, solitary town of Fingerbone, which is located near the lake. Their grandfather dies in the train accident, whereas their mother commits a suicide by jumping off the cliff. The story, however, is a coming of age experience of two sisters who should realize the price of survival and loss in addition to entering a new stage of moral and intellectual development.
According to Hirsh, “the novel of formation is a novel that focuses on one central character, a Figurenroman. It is the story of a representative individual’s growth and development within the context of a defined social order” (299). Although the reader could witness the evolvement and progress of the protagonist, the latter is still a passive character who is under the influence of circumstances being unable to take control of the destiny. Importantly, the hero’s development is examined from different perspectives aimed at shaping the total of personality in terms of emotional, physical, and moral evolution. Similarly to these theoretical explanations, Ruth’s life could also be presented as a passive existence in the light of the events which take place in her life. The story is narrated from the first person and focuses on the circumstances that happen and overall hardship she and her younger sister have to overcome. However, Ruth does not speak about her personal feelings, but focuses directly on the occurrences and moments in her life which make her adjust and become morally and intellectually advanced to be able to cope with those problems.
There is still a difference in the way two sisters react to the emerging hardships, such as their grandfather’s death and mother’s suicide. For instance, Ruth stays at home with her aunt, and she feels comfortable while leading a solitary life because “once alone it is impossible to believe that one could have ever been otherwise. Loneliness is an absolute discovery” (Robinson n. p.). Such an assumption contrasts with Lucille’s searching of the self through attempting to understand and perceive the situation. In particular, the younger sister strives to escape Sylvie’s isolated life and starts separating from the conventions of the family and moving forward to a new life. Hence, it sounds like Lucile disapproves of the family and her roots for the sake of personal freedom from the generally accepted rules. She is unable to connect with the place of birth because of her self-sufficiency. On the contrary, Ruth is more determined to preserve the importance of family believing that this concept is associated with the self. Thus, the novel is about the people who fail to connect themselves with the place or another person; it is about the experience of falling out of family, and the story where the heroines strive to invent a new legend which would help them to harmonize their identity and find the sense of life.
As it can be seen from the above stated, the theme of isolation is also the major issue in the piece of writing under consideration. First, their father abandons them and, as a result, their mother falls into depression which leads to her suicide. The girls’ grandmother is the one who take care of them, but she has to leave their granddaughters because of her husband’s death. Further, two aunts start looking after the two orphan sisters to make everything possible to save them from frustration and anxiety. They do everything possible to retain the family and be more involved into its issues. Importantly, the accent has been made on the allegoric representation of the concept of housekeeping which symbolizes social construction of domesticity that is applied to traditionally accepted roles of women. Therefore, loss is a constant escort of Ruth’s life and her ill-fated family, which is reflected through tragedies and subsequent deaths.
The story is also the confrontation between nature and civilization, the individual and society, confinement and freedom, imagination and reality, conformity and non-conformity. Such ambivalent representations introduce the way Ruth and other heroines cope with the social and cultural boundaries, as well as how traditions and conventions prevent from acknowledging the fact that human beings are constantly changing to adjust to the external environment and shifts in social conventions. At this point, Selvie demonstrates Ruth the arbitrariness and mutability of social constrains, as well as how habits reveal the recognition that all individuals are transforming. Hence, characters’ conduct leads the readers into the framework of social traditions. In this context, Ruth is represented through the description of mysteriousness of the world, the symbolism of natural alterations in the novel.
To continue, the passiveness of the characters’ development, as the novel of formation dictates, is also demonstrated through the theme of acceptance and inevitability. All women in the work are ready to take the burden of tragedies and deaths and retain what has been left of their family. The theme of females’ sacrifice is also revealed through the revision and dedication to the transient journey which could allow them to deal with the psychological trauma. Housekeeping, therefore, embodies women’s marginality in the community, as well as the subversion of male notions about family, gender roles, and social order in general. The absence of men in the narration, along with the focus on the fate of females who live on the edge of the society, presents women as liberationists who support their personal independence and self-sufficiency. In such a way, the novel acquires the character of spiritual evolution and female subjectivity. However, there is still ambiguity regarding the modern understanding of the relationships connecting gender, language, and memory.
In conclusion, the novel of formation, which is discusses on the example of Robinson’s Housekeeping, is the direct representation of characters’ transition to the adulthood, as well as their adaptation to the new circumstances. It is also about passive shifts in life which make the main heroines adjust to the emerging tragedies to cope with the injustice and unexpected losses. Furthermore, the coming-of-age paradigm creates the leading framework for deliberating on the role of women and matriarchy in the social order. Ruth is the symbol of isolation and marginality; she is determined to by loyal and committed to family values regardless the hardships she has to deal with. However, Lucile is completely opposite because she strives to be separated from the accepted conventions deciding to move her way in another social dimension. The contrastive representation is framed in the concept of allegoric housekeeping making women fit in the socially accepted roles.