Reading High Fidelity as a Bildungsroman

High Fidelity is a well-written and varicoloured novel by Nick Hornby based on the experiences of Rob Fleming, who shows the positive and negative sides of his life to the reader, not to mention his relationships and ways of thinking. The reader can easily imagine how Rob’s life looks like; we can identify our lives with his during the reading process. Therefore, the reader may consider the protagonist as a mean, non-gentle, self-absorbed, introverted and childish man, who is not capable of development, but Rob refutes this and demonstrates us that he has values and he can exceed himself and grow up, therefore, through examining Rob’s personal development, I am going to read High Fidelity as belonging to the long tradition of Bildungsromans.

At the very beginning we meet with Rob while he is making a list and talking about his five worst split-ups. Within these stories Rob childish side is in the foreground, although he tries to make sense with his explanations about love, life and the effects of the society. He has good insights about the functioning of the world, about genders, about money, about himself, as well. He clearly starts thinking about growing up and the changing of things within the first few pages: “…but still a quite terrifying sign that things had progressed without us, beyond us, behind our backs” (Hornby 3). His mental and characteristic features and the changing and developing of these values are one of the main topics in the book; they also represent some features of the Bildungsroman. A Bildungsroman is: “an ‘upbringing’ or ‘education’ novel… it refers to a novel which is an account of the youthful development of a hero or heroine. It describes the process by which maturity is achieved” (Cuddon 82).

Rob is not a traditional hero type of a character; still he tries to make his best, when he finds an opportunity for that. In stories, usually the main character has determinacy, foresight; he is challenging, an optimist, who wants to achieve something at the very end of the novel. Rob Fleming is nothing like that. Because of the effects of the First World War, culture, society, ways of thinking, literature and heroism also changed in the 20th century. Antiheroes appeared. An ‘antihero’ is “a ‘non-hero’ or the antithesis of a hero of the old-fashioned kind – a type who is incompetent, tactless, clumsy, cack-handed, stupid, and buffoonish” (Cuddon 81). They basically became the end product of this enormous cultural trauma, the British had gone through. Masculine values fell apart, as we can see it in connection with Rob – psychologically and morally he develops; becomes more mature, as well -, but writers brought up themes which inspired people and forced them to think: to think about the big questions of life which have an effect on us.

Although these essential parts of gaining basic information and intellect are neglected because of the disadvantageous characteristic features of Rob, he compensates it with the learning process, and also with his relevant thoughts about the above things. The story of Rob’s life is in connection with the British Bildungsroman, as Jerome Hamilton Buckley draws up, which was mentioned in an article by Mikko Keskinen: ”childhood, the conflict of generations, provinciality, the larger society, self-education, alienation, ordeal by love, the search for vocation and a working philosophy” (Buckley qtd. in Keskinen 19). These are the aspects, which occur in the book as social norms which everybody has to adapt to. Rob is struggling with these things; he tries to find the sense of them at first, then he creates a background for them. The main problem is that this background is not accepted by most of the people around him. His feelings and aims are questioned by even Laura. Although, speaking and showing emotions are not his strength, Rob is capable of bonding, as he maintains a really good relationship with his friends. Of course, it happens through music. His problem is that he cannot think big and make an effort to find or reach his goals.

Because of these features of the novel, readers may think that it is all about some issues that are relevant to everybody – through the main character’s eyes, who is not even capable of solving their own problems. This statement however is incorrect, as Rob is learning to handle things in a meaningful way; he tries to find balance and tries to fix what is already broken because of his mistakes. It is a true example of what a story of a Bildungsroman stands for. Of course, he is stubborn at first, but the learning and changing process starts with the “now” section of the book.

Searching for or getting to know yourself, self-investigation and identity do not come easily for everybody, that is why the reader should not judge Rob after reading the first couple of pages from the novel. Not to mention, that significant information occur to be given chapter by chapter, also getting closer to answer “why” and recognizing the value and importance of Rob’s thoughts and acts. He is clumsy; he has an aloof personality, what he remedies by collecting records and with planning, with making lists. Actually, he sees class, society in a proper way, and with collecting he is able to express himself through the music. He also cuts across class, achieves self-expression, self-definition, explains identity, and has an adequate insight about culture, gender boundaries, economic and social requirements. He collects to listen and gain background knowledge from the music of different bands. As Shucker writes about it, identity is a huge question, which participates in the conformation and development of a character, also in the shaping of the Bildungsroman (Shuker 324).

Although Rob is still searching for himself, he shows us his ambiguous personal identity. Normally, people learn newer and newer things over and over again, during their whole lives. Rob is not an exception. Furthermore, socially guided issues also occur as part of our personal identity. Collecting music records can mean escaping from society, but it makes you feel secure, as well, and links people in a way, nothing, not even words are able to: “…Tonight though, I fancy something different, so I try to remember the order I bought them in… But what I really like is the feeling of security I get from my new filing system” (Hornby 44). This way, it becomes clear that Rob wants to earn some order and balance. Therefore, he organizes his records; at least there is order in one important field of his life.

Information about Rob’s taste in music, his love life, his characteristic features, the fact that he is not an optimist, the open-endedness of the novel also could cause the feeling within the readers that the book has not got the features what a book should have, relying on the previous historical effects, it becomes clear that things are changing. How the writer thinks about these matters soon will become how the reader does the same. As new horizons open for Rob, he has to learn newer ways of thinking and developing, embracing himself in the field of work, love and everyday life situations, as well.

Love is something that has an effect in your life, your way of thinking and your future, if you handle it properly. It is a big question, how the protagonist really feels for Laura, especially after figuring out his mistakes within the relationship: “I didn’t know she was pregnant, of course, I didn’t. She hadn’t told me because she knew I was seeing somebody else…I didn’t find out until ages afterwards” (Hornby 77). These are the lines, where the reader truly starts to think about the character of Rob. Besides, he plays with the thought of cheating on Laura at the end of the novel, as well. Is he a bad person, or just very unwieldy, who cannot talk about his own feelings and maintain a relationship at his thirties? In a way, the answer is yes for both parts of the question. Here, he is still a child, who cannot imagine putting someone else at the first place, but him. After these, he also makes mistakes, but smaller ones, and he can exceed himself, put himself together and think like an adult. Even if it means being at places, where he do not want to be at the first place: the funeral of Laura’s father. This represents going on step by step, and the development of his character.

Music is also considered to be the novel’s heart, also Rob’s heart, as – according to Keskinen’s article -, monomania appears in connection with the record collecting, although it is not a negative thing (Keskinen 3). We have to take the effects of music into consideration. Rob’s life with the “then” and now” part looks like the obverse and reverse sides of a record or cassette. Furthermore, the kissing session with Alison repeats itself like a stucked cassette tape. That can be the explanation of why Rob is not capable of moving forward within his recent relationship: “First night: park, fag, snog. Second night: ditto. Third night: ditto. Fourth night: chucked” (Hornby 5). Also, culturally the novel represents people’s approach to self-expression, even to finding themselves and their places within the community. The solution for that was music; to be precise: rock music. People in the 1960’s wanted to raise awareness to economical and political issues, as well. That is also a huge topic, which is evolving during the novel. Hence, Rob’s knowledge in music becomes really important.

Finally, based on Barry Faulk’s article, “man trouble” is considered to be one of the main ideas behind Rob’s character and of the Bildungsroman, appeared in the novel. There is an expectation in connection with achievement in life, with marriages, with work, with personality. Rob Fleming does not stand for this. He did not finish college and he does not have a well-paying job. On the other hand, he makes end meet, he is a bread earner, although he does not fit for the general middle-class masculinity. What society wants from us can also be ambiguous, as everybody needs to find his or her own way of completing the above tasks. Rob starts to realize what his own good way is. He and Laura become a couple again. Although he has an inflammation toward Caroline, who interviews him, he does not cheat Laura. He also makes a huge gesture and offers marrying her, but Laura says no to him. According to Faulk, the answer for that is that Rob has to change his everyday life and attitude first. At the end of the novel, he starts to live according to that, he is also a DJ again.

All in all, a Bildungsroman is a type of a novel, which shows us the moral and psychological growth of the main character. Rob Fleming succeeded in that, although he still has a long way before him. The reader may have the feeling from gut instinct, that he will not be a totally new man, but he will be honest within his relationships, at least he will keep trying very hard to keep things in that way. Rob is a complex character who has lifelike issues to fight against and overcome those problems. High Fidelity became a serious novel within the circle of readers, as it represents class system and even deals with social requirements.

Works Cited

Cuddon, J. A. The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory. London: Penguin Books, 1992. 81-82. Print.

Faulk, Barry. “Love, Lists and Class in Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity.” Cultural Critique 66 (Spring 2007): 153-176. JSTOR. Web. 10 March 2016.

Hornby, Nick. High Fidelity. London: Penguin, 2010. Print.

Keskinen, Mikko. “Single, Long-Playing, and Compilation: The Formats of Audio Amorousness in Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity.” Critique (Fall 2005) 47.1, 3-21. n. p.: Gale, 2008. Literature Resource Center. Web. 20 Apr. 2016.

Shuker, Roy. “Beyond the ‘high Fidelity’ Stereotype: Defining the (contemporary) Record Collector.” Popular Music 23.3 (October 2004): 311–330. JSTOR. Web. 12 Apr. 2016.