While adolescence may appear to be a long established stage of development, the concept has a “relatively short history” (J. Demos and V. Demos 632). Prior to G. Stanley Hall’s influence in the late nineteenth century, the term “adolescence” was nonexistent. There was no determined stage that defined the period of life between childhood and adulthood. As the first person in the United States to receive a professional degree in psychology, Hall served as a “forerunner of developmental and educational psychology” (Arnett and Cravens 166). He both created and shaped adolescence as an explicit psychological field of study. His influence reached beyond the realm of psychology, however, and affected society in the forms of education and literature (J. Demos and V. Demos 635-636).
Hall’s development and popularization of the concept of adolescence occurred during a time of transformation involving America’s youth. Many education and child labor laws were being enacted and enforced. High schools were forming at such a rate that they were “the most rapidly growing educational institution” of the early 20th century (Karier 37). High school delayed youths’ entrance into the workforce and, therefore, adulthood. Thus arose an awkward state of being “sexually mature according to nature while remaining socially immature according to the needs of society” (Karier 37). It is on this stage of life that Hall focused his psychological studies, calling the stage “adolescence” (Hall). This concept, as a transitional period, is a major contributor to the bildungsroman genre.
In 1904, Hall published a two-volume work entitled Adolescence that mapped out his views concerning the newly established stage of life. According to Hall, an adolescent experiences a fluctuation of the emotions. Scholar Hamilton Cravens summarizes Hall's depiction of this fluctuation “as between pleasure and pain, selfishness and altruism, good and bad conduct, sensitivity and cruelty, curiosity and apathy, knowing and doing, conservative versus radical instincts, wisdom and folly” (Cravens). Likewise, adolescents face many conflicts that cause further fluctuations of moods and actions. Hall insists that a unified mind, without fluctuations, is not achieved until adulthood. Additionally, Hall described certain instincts that arise in the period of adolescence. He stated that adolescence begins with knowledge of sex and sexual activities. Thus, he claimed that love first arises in the adolescent stage (Hall). Following the development of a love for others, an adolescent begins to appreciate the aesthetics of the natural world by developing “a reverence and love for nature” (Cravens). Other secondary instincts such as “vanity,” “self-consciousness,” “affection,” “fear,” “rage,” “sympathy,” and a “love for home” also develop alongside maturity (Cravens). Such characteristics of adolescence were widely accepted and applied to education and literature.
Hall’s Adolescence, however, was not introduced without controversy. Hall held on to Victorian views such as sexual repressiveness and the restrictiveness of women’s roles -- views that lost support as the Victorian era passed. Likewise, Hall supported the now disproven idea that “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny” (Phillips and Kelly 353). In other words, Hall believed that one’s individual developmental stages retrace the human stages that occured during evolution (Phillips and Kelly 352). As Hall put it, “infancy, childhood and youth are the three bunches of keys to unlock the past history of the race” (Phillips and Kelly 354). Hall’s ethnic psychology, however, perhaps received the most criticism. He ranked different human races as being in a childhood, adolescent, or adult stage. He considered certain “childlike” and “adolescent” races, such as dark-skinned races, as “savage” and inferior to the races that he determined to be in the “adult” stage, such as white-skinned races of North America (Cravens). This view gained little support among the scientific community and was practically irrelevant during the 20th century (Arnett and Cravens 169).
While the term “adolescence” did not exist at the time, some bildungsroman novels written prior to the publication of Adolescence attempted to describe this period of life. For example, in Charles Dickens' 1860 Great Expectations, the protagonist, Pip, exhibits many of the characteristics of one of Hall’s adolescents. As Pip passes from childhood into adulthood he displays the disorganized mindset and emotional fluctuations that Hall discussed; he is often ashamed of his humble beginnings yet other times he misses his friends of low social status. Pip spends his money selfishly, yet generously financially supports his friend Herbert (Dickens), exhibiting Hall’s adolescent fluctuation between “selfishness and altruism” (Cravens). During this developmental stage of Pip’s life, he falls in love with a girl named Estella and often strolls through the garden with her at Satis House, admiring nature (Dickens). Thus, it seems that Dickens’ bildungsroman novel described Pip during a stage of adolescence even though the term had not yet been coined.
Hall’s concept of adolescence continued to be influential and relevant in literature after the publication of Adolescence. In J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, published in 1951, the author provides a representation of Hall’s adolescent as the protagonist comes of age. Expelled from school, Holden quickly comes in contact with prostitutes and homosexuals, distinguishing this novel from the sexual repression of the Victorian era. Here, Salinger uses knowledge of sexuality as a way to establish Holden’s adolescence. Holden often uses the term “phony” to criticize the artificiality of the adult world (Salinger). Though he denounces “phoniness” such as pretending and lying, he often lies to mock others cruelly (Salinger). He criticizes snobbery in others, but he often exhibits a sense of superiority and snobbery himself. Though he argues for the resistance of sexual activity to preserve the innocence of children, he sometimes appreciates and admits his enjoyment of sexual acts (Chen 144). While he shows his wisdom at times, he is subject to folly (Cravens). Therefore, as an adolescent, Holden exhibits the fluctuations of emotion and action described by Hall. Furthermore, Holden experiences many of the secondary instincts that Hall associated with adolescence such as “vanity” towards others, “fear” of adulthood, “rage” when faced with artificiality, and “affection” towards women whom he does not love (Cravens). Thus, adolescence properly labels Holden’s stage of life as he comes of age in this bildungsroman novel.
G. Stanley Hall’s Adolescence defines a distinct stage of life commonly discussed in the bildungsroman genre. Hall describes many of the characteristics commonly found in the transition from childhood to adulthood. His work is relevant to understanding bildungsroman literature before and after the publication of Adolescence. Using the ideas set forth by Hall, authors and readers alike can better grasp the complexities that take place when one passes through the adolescent period and comes of age.
Arnett, Jeffrey Jenson, and Hamilton Cravens. "G. Stanley Hall’s Adolescence: A Centennial Reappraisal." History of Psychology 9.3 (2006): 165-171. Web. 19 Feb. 2013. <http://www.jeffreyarnett.com/articles/Arnett_2006_HP1.pdf >.
Chen, Lingdi. "An Analysis of the Adolescent Problems in The Catcher in the Rye." Asian Social Science 5.5 (2009): 143-146. Web. 19 Feb. 2013. <http://www.ccsenet.org/journal/index.php/ass/article/view/1735/1621>.
Cravens, Hamilton. "The Historical Context of G. Stanley Hall’s Adolescence (1904)." History of Psychology 9.3 (2006): 172-185. Web. 19 Feb. 2013.
Demos, John, and Virginia Demos. "Adolescence in Historical Perspective." Journal of Marriage and Family 31.4 (1969): 635-636. Web. 19 Feb. 2013. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdfplus/349302.pdf>
Dickens, Charles. Great Expectations. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2001. Print.
Hall, G. Stanley. Adolescence: Its psychology and its relations to physiology, anthropology, sociology, sex, crime, religion, and education. Vol. 1. New York: D. Appleton & Co. 1904. Web. 19 Feb. 2013. <http://galenet.galegroup.com/servlet/MOML?af=RN&ae=F3751551078&srchtp=a&ste=14>.
Karier, Clarence J. "G. Stanley Hall: A Priestly Prophet of a New Dispensation." The Journal of Libertarian Studies 7.1 (1983): 35-37. Web. 19 Feb. 2013. <https://mises.org/journals/jls/7_1/7_1_2.pdf >.
Phillips, D.C., and Mavis E. Kelly. "Hierarchical Theories of Development in Education and Psychology." Harvard Educational Review. 45.3 (1975): 353. Web. 16 Mar. 2013 <http://her.hepg.org/content/e5528x555834n6lu/fulltext.pdf>.
Salinger, J. D. The Catcher in the Rye. Boston: Little, Brown, 1951. Print.