Coming of Age
Prior to the 1960’s the transition from childhood to adulthood had been relatively smooth, with the majority of adolescents progressing straight from secondary education into employment (Coleman and Hendry 1999:3), much as their parents had. It was in the late 1950’s however, that music began to be influential and in the following decades the cohesion that this produced amongst adolescents, epitomised by the Woodstock festival in 1969, marked the advent of ‘youth culture’ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1960%27s, accessed 21/12/2006). Economically, the era was marked by Britain’s entry into the European Community (1973) and the 1970’s culminated in the election of Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister (1979). This political landmark, along with the introduction of the contraceptive pill and legislation such as the Family Planning Act (1967), raised awareness of the feminist issues that had been gathering momentum in the United States since early in the decade (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1970s, accessed 21/12/2006). These are some of the issues reflected in the writing of the period.
‘Coming of age’ novels have had to assimilate and reflect these changes in order to continue to explore the now more complex adolescent phase, during which gender identification is concretised. In view of the suggestion by Mica Nava that gender differentiates the experience of youth (in Côté and Allahar 1994:24), the novels that have been chosen to explore the formation of gender identity in adolescence are Angela Carter’s The Magic Toyshop (1967) and Ian McEwan’s The Cement Garden (1978). While both novels explore the effect of parental death on the coming of age process, the experiences of Carter’s female protagonist, Melanie, and those of McEwan’s male counterpart, Jack, appear in many ways dissimilar.
The Magic Toyshop charts Melanie’s quest to redefine her identity following its violent rupture at the death of her parents. Melanie’s particular...