Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Explication of Innocence in Literature

Throughout literature there are motifs considered conventional because they are the representation of ordinary concepts. One such idea is the concept of innocence and purity. This motif exists in countless works of literature because it is an idea that is considered important to humanity. When found in art, innocence is an idea that gives readers and observers the opportunity to relate to critical events or themes that constitute the importance of such a motif. This holds true for literary works that are often times based very much upon the loss of innocence and purity. Three such literary works include Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, and Lord of the Flies by William Golding.

The novel Kite Runner contains a particular event that classically displays the loss of innocence. Kite Runner’s protagonist, Amir, looks back at his childhood growing up in Afghanistan. He grew up having a successful father and was financially comfortable. They had servants that were close friends, one whose son was named Hassan. Amir and Hassan have a friendship that is altered by their difference in class, and by the fact that Amir feels that his father, Baba, favors Hassan over him. However, Hassan exhibits complete loyalty to Amir and truly treasures their friendship. Amir participates in kite running tournaments throughout the story. After one such tournament, Amir goes out to look for a missing Hassan, and finds him in an alley with the well-known bully, Assef, and two of his friends. At this point in the story, Assef rapes Hassan and Amir watches from a distance without helping his friend.

Amir is flooded with guilt after this event and his relationship with Hassan becomes damaged. This illustrates the loss of innocence. In an obvious way, Hassan has his own innocence and privacy robbed from him. After witnessing the event, Amir is not the same either. His guilt is a burden he must live with because he never helped Hassan. Amir begins avoiding Hassan at all costs because he can’t face the situation. What happened to Hassan forces both characters to lose an essence of their purity, and to lose the bond they had as friends.

Being forced to realize the harshness of reality is a concept that goes along with the loss of innocence. In Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, the nameless protagonist is put in such a situation. A scholarly young man, the main character attends college. It is while at college that fate drops him with an unfortunate situation that results in his expulsion from the school. After being forced out into the world, the protagonist moves to New York. The president of the college sends along with him letters to bring to employers to help him find work in the city. He later finds out that he is unable to find a job because the letters do not recommend him to the employers and merely explain to the employers to ignore the protagonist.

The biggest correlation between the narrators experience and the motif of innocence is that the narrator is forced to learn what the world is like. His sheer bad luck exposes him to the harsh realities of city life. Before joining the Brotherhood, the protagonist is inexperienced. He has a lot of faith in all his encounters and in the people he meets, only to be let down. This demonstrates his innocence as he makes his way into the world as a young man. When the narrator looks back at his life as he is reflecting upon it in later years, he acknowledges the way he used to disregard the cruelties of the world, often mistaking unfairness for just misfortune while keeping such an innocent perspective.

An overall theme of the novel is racism. This parallels with the motif of innocence in that the protagonist allows himself to be subject to the stereotype of a typical African-American at this time. He feeds the ideas suggested by white people at this time in history. This exhibits his innocence as well. Determined to do well in school and be a success, he often allows himself to be the victim of unfairness without even realizing it. The meaning of this shows not only the character’s purity but also illuminates the racism that existed during this era.

William Golding’s Lord of the Flies dramatically confirms loss of innocence as a reoccurring theme throughout literature. The plot highlights the way in which a group of young boys destroy their purity as they become barbaric while stranded on an island during the World War II era. As two distinct groups form on the island- those trying to be civil and live by the rules, and those living a barbaric jungle life- Golding shows the divide that separates the innocent from the wild. Boys who were once innocent and well behaved resort to wild acts of hunting, torturing, and killing. By comparing the boys at the beginning of the book when they first become stranded to the boys they are at the end of the book, you can see the loss of innocence they have experienced. They have grown to consider hunting animals and even one another the normal way of life. As their savagery increases, Golding shows the meaning of the loss of innocence in Lord of the Flies. The meaning that the loss of innocence holds for the boys is the measure of good within humans. Golding suggests that the savage instincts of the boys may have been something they always possessed but that were not revealed until they were put in a situation like that of the island. A symbol for the loss of innocence is the pig’s head. At the point that it is mounted, the boys truly begin to lose their innocence. At the offering for the beast, the boys completely lose all instincts of purity and good when they kill Simon.

The novel shows how when left to ourselves with no formal set of rules held in place with someone to carry them out, people tend to explore alternative methods of reasoning and stray away from their own moral instincts. I think this idea plays a role in the loss of innocence in general. Like Lord of the Flies, Kite Runner shows how someone else’s decision to cause harm forces someone else to lose their innocence. The use of the motif of innocence in these three works of literature has some common aspects but all deliver a different piece of what the loss of innocence is. In Kite Runner, innocence is stolen from Hassan, and the protagonist is affected by this event. However, in Invisible Man, the protagonist’s innocence is not taken from him, but rather deteriorates as he grows older and experiences the cruelties of the world. In Lord of the Flies, aspects of human nature and the loss of purity are exemplified. This type of lost innocence is developed as the boys on the island lose their sense of morality. In all three works, characters experience change as a result of lost innocence.

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