The 'coming of age' story is about one or more characters growing up -- maturing in their social, intellectual, psychological, and/or sexual relationships. The 'coming of age' story typically will examine a character at an age somewhere between early adolescence and early adulthood.

The lessons taught in the 'coming of age' novel or film may or may not be written specifically toward the gender of the main character(s). Two popular 'coming of age' novels with male protagonists are J.D.Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye and James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man. Two well-regarded novels with female protagonists are Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye and Sandra Cisneros' The House on Mango Street.

~ Jim Morrison

All cultures mark the phases in a person’s life—birth, puberty, adulthood, marriage, death—with rites of passage which, while they may differ tremendously in detail from one society to another, serve the same basic function; to celebrate the change from one status to another and provide a means of transition for the individual into hir new role.

In earlier times, and continuing today in some cultures, the teen years were not acknowledged as a separate period. Coming of age ceremonies took place at the time of puberty and marked the end of childhood and the beginning of a person’s life as an adult, often signaling that the person was now of marriageable age, independent, and expected to to be self-supporting.

Our modern (Western) concept of adolescence stretches over six or seven years and is not conducive to a single defining act. We do, however, recognize some mileposts. The age at which the adolescent joins the church or has her bat mitzvah, begins to date, gets her first job, or passes the test and gets a driver’s license all signal new levels of maturity, and carry with them new privileges and demands. Coming out (in the debutante sense), prom night and the preparation leading up to it, and attending and graduating high school are some of this society’s rites of passage.

The older, pre-industrialization, traditional model for a coming of age rite of passage begins with the individual being cut off from his past, from family and old friends and old childhood ways. There is often a physical separation during which the novice is taken some distance away from his old life. During this time he must pass a series of difficult physical and mental trials, either alone or in the company of others his age who are also making the transition. Sometimes this takes the form of the first lone hunting trip, or a trek in the wilderness.

Throughout this period of seclusion, the novice receives instruction in the tribal law and is gradually educated in the ways of adults in his society. He is taught how to live differently than he did as a child. He may receive special instruction based on his chosen profession. This initiation often takes place in stages, over days or months, and lasts until the novice has gained the knowledge and skills necessary to live as an adult. The time of separation is followed by a ceremony incorporating the novice back into the community, awarding him with the rights and duties of adulthood.


In the absence of a formal ritual , today's adolescents and young adults often find their own ways to mark the changes they are going through. These include, but are not limited to,

There seems to be growing interest in the last few years in developing modern coming-of-age ritual(s) as an acknowledgement of the changes today’s adolescents go through on the way to adulthood. The website “The Drum” points out salient elements in traditional rituals, to keep in mind when fashioning a new ritual:

Although many of the attempts to create new rituals may seem flaky or even New agey ( there, I'm sure I've offended somebody) they fulfill a real need. If it provides an adolescent with a feeling of achievement and replaces the need to express one's adult status by becoming a parent (too soon), shooting someone, or going to jail (really! I've read about such things!), then I'm all for it.

Jim Morrison, Wilderness, Volume 1 1988, Wilderness Publications, page 22.

Arnold Van Gannep, The Rites of Passage 1960; The University of Chicago Press.

See also:

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