Date of Award


Document Type

Honors Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



Advisor/Committee Chair

Richard Barney

Committee Member

Mary Valentis

Committee Member

Tamika L. Carey


This paper explores how the various gendered characteristics of the Bildungsroman, the novel of formation, interact with the formation of the titular character in the cartoon Steven Universe, the coming of age tale of a boy’s work to defend the Earth from magical threats. Traditional cartoon studies identify distinct gender identities between male and female characters. Similarly, Bildungsroman studies tend to analyze male heroes, with contemporary studies coining the term “female Bildungsroman” to talk about the formation of female protagonists. This paper argues that Steven, the protagonist of Steven Universe, incorporates aspects of both the Bildungsroman and the female Bildungsroman into his identity, transforming into a character not bound by the gendered roles inherent in Bildungsroman studies and cartoons. Steven creates a male figure realistically found in society to an audience that’s often exposed to violent, hypermasculine male characters. This essay will achieve this through analyzing Steven Universe through the lens of various male, female, and Queer Bildungsroman theories, as well as comparing the show to James Joyce’s The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Claire Messud’s The Burning Girl, a Modernist story about the coming of age of an artist and a contemporary novel about the coming of age of two teenage girls, respectively. Steven becomes what I call an unbound hero, and provides a model for those who don’t identify with traditional gender and sexual identities.