Taiga as a Setting for Coming-of-Age Novels: A Comparative Study


Set in the cold and unforgiving landscapes of the northern hemisphere, the taiga biome has long been a favorite setting for coming-of-age novels. The harsh but beautiful environment, with its vast expanses of snow and towering pine trees, serves as a powerful backdrop for the transformation and growth of young characters. Through the lens of literature, we can explore how this setting is utilized in various ways to convey universal themes of identity, survival, and maturation.

Before delving into the comparative study, it is important to first define the taiga biome. Also known as the boreal forest, it is the largest terrestrial biome on Earth, covering vast areas of Russia, Canada, and northern Europe. It is characterized by extreme cold temperatures, with long and harsh winters, and short, mild summers. The landscape is predominantly covered by coniferous trees, including spruce, fir, and pine, which can grow to great heights and provide a mystical aura to the surroundings.

One of the most prominent ways in which the taiga setting is utilized in coming-of-age novels is to reflect the inner state of the characters. In the novel “Wintergirls” by Laurie Halse Anderson, the protagonist struggles with anorexia and self-harm as she navigates her way through adolescence. The taiga setting, with its barren and desolate appearance, mirrors her internal struggles and the isolation she feels in her battle with her eating disorder. The cold and darkness of the taiga also add to the sense of despair and hopelessness that the character experiences, making it a fitting setting to reflect her emotional journey.

On the other hand, in the novel “Hatchet” by Gary Paulsen, the taiga setting is used to challenge and test the protagonist’s physical abilities. The story follows a young boy named Brian who is forced to survive on his own in the Canadian taiga after a plane crash. With minimal resources and facing harsh weather conditions, Brian must learn to overcome his fears and adapt to the harsh environment in order to survive. The taiga serves as a physical manifestation of the challenges Brian must overcome in order to mature and grow in the face of adversity.

Apart from reflecting the inner and physical struggles of the characters, the taiga setting is also rich in cultural and mythological significance. In his novel “The Tiger’s Wife,” Téa Obreht weaves together coming-of-age elements with magical and spiritual elements that are deeply rooted in the Balkan taiga landscape. The protagonist, a young doctor, embarks on a journey to uncover the mysterious circumstances surrounding her grandfather’s death and discovers the existence of an otherworldly being, the “deathless man,” in the mythical taiga. The taiga, with its rich folklore and ancient beliefs, acts as a catalyst for the protagonist’s self-discovery and understanding of the cultural heritage that shapes her identity.

Furthermore, the taiga setting can also serve to contrast the characters’ primitive instincts with the modern world they come from. In the novel “Julie of the Wolves” by Jean Craighead George, the protagonist is a teenage girl of Inuit heritage who runs away from her abusive husband and finds herself lost in the Alaskan taiga. As she struggles to survive and adapt to the harsh environment, she also grapples with her conflicted identity as an Inuit from a traditional way of life. The taiga becomes a symbol of her ancestral heritage, in contrast to the modern and “civilized” world she left behind, and it is through her journey in the taiga that she rediscovers and embraces her cultural roots.

In conclusion, the taiga setting is a powerful tool in the literary world, especially in coming-of-age novels. With its cold and unforgiving environment, it serves as a mirror for the inner and physical struggles of the characters, while also providing a rich cultural and mythological landscape to explore. By comparing the usage of this setting in different novels, we can see how it is utilized in various ways to convey universal themes of identity, survival, and maturation. It is a setting that continues to captivate readers and immerse them in the emotional and transformative journeys of young characters.