Künstlerroman: Threefold Personal Growth Of An Artist In Miriam Toew’s "A Complicated Kindness"

1065 words - 4 pages

Künstlerroman is a German word meaning “artist’s novel”; an ideal description for Miriam Toew’s novel A Complicated Kindness. Staying true to the definition of the word, it is a novel about an artist’s growth to maturity, depicting the struggles of a sensitive youth against the values of the bourgeois society of her time. Even more fittingly, is the term from which künstlerroman is a sub-genre: bildungsroman, or “novel of education”. To label a novel as such, the author must present the personality of a young main character through psychological, moral and social adjustment. As well, the process of maturation should be portrayed as difficult and gradual, involving repeated clashes between the needs and desires of the protagonist and the views and judgments enforced by an obstinate social system. Nomi Nickel is designed to fit rather accurately into this genre of literature. Toews’ approach to the style is evident through Nomi’s growing psychological awareness of herself and others, her change in expressions towards her upbringing, and her impressive journey towards social growth.
Nomi is a confused albeit opinionated girl, searching for meaning in a strict community which appears, to her, to have chosen its own brand of reality. Referring to her childhood years in East Village, Nomi states “there were so many bizarre categories of things we couldn’t do and things we could do and none of it has ever made any sense to me at all” (Toews 17). She also differs greatly from her family, often baffled by the choices each of them makes in their own quest to adapt to the burdensome Mennonite community. She explains her frustrations, with her older sister as the foundation block to her family’s dysfunction: “Why was Tash so intent on derailing our chances and sabotaging our plans to be together for … ever and why … couldn’t my parents see what was happening and rein that girl in?” (23). Regardless of the confusion her experiences bring to her thoughts, Nomi becomes quite adept in her goal for psychological understanding. Not only does she learn to recognize her own unique being; she opens her senses to subjectively discern the very people who have confused her for so long. After being excommunicated from church and her father has left town, Nomi reasons that “if Ray wanted to keep his faith and stay in town…yeah, I’d have been a ghost to him, a kid he loved but couldn’t acknowledge. And it was comforting, in a fragile, loss-filled kind of way, to know that Ray had decided to keep the love alive in his imagination and leave” (317). It is this skill in recognizing the positive in people and situations, and willingness to view the world through the mind of others, which shows the psychological growth Nomi has accomplished.
Equally successful is Nomi’s change in attitude towards the very town she ridicules throughout much of the novel. In the beginning of her narrative, Nomi is very bitter towards East Village, which she makes clear in an...

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