The Queen’s Gambit is a Classic Bildungsroman

By Alec Bojalad

If the formula of Netflix’s chess drama The Queen’s Gambit feels timeless, that’s because it is.

Many Queen’s Gambit viewers have observed that the story of Beth Harmon (Anya Taylor-Joy) feels like that of a sports movie protagonist or even a Marvel hero.

In truth, sports movies, superhero origin stories, and The Queen’s Gambit are all takes on a literary genre known as a “bildungsroman.”

The term “bildungsroman” combines the German word for “Bildung” (education) and “Roman” novel. 

A bildungsroman is therefore a coming of age tale that focuses on the psychological and moral growth of a young character. 

Prominent literary examples of bildungsroman include Little Women, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and The Catcher in the Rye.

The Queen’s Gambit opens with Beth Harmon’s childhood in a Kentucky orphanage.

Then it follows her training at the hands of custodian Mr. Shaibel and former rivals Harry Beltik and Benny Watts. 

Beth quickly ascends to the top of the chess world on the strength of her preternatural talent.

But she soon experiences emotional and competitive setbacks due to her turbulent upbringing and existing character flaws.

Finally Beth learns (or one could say “Bildungs”) from the whole journey and comes out on top.

The Queen’s Gambit works because the bildungsroman formula works...and because it’s all executed so effectively of course.