Complexity of 'Innocence'

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The Complexity of ‘Innocence’ depicted through experience

Poet Thomas Gray famously wrote with nostalgia of the felicity of childhood, that “Where ignorance is bliss, ‘tis folly to be wise” (Gray). His poem reminisces of childhood innocence with fondness, to be carefree, unmarred of the realities of responsibility, and pure of cynicism. ‘Childhood innocence’ simply stated is a naïve ignorance that is inevitably lost with maturity. Exposure to the harshness of the world shapes the identity of adults while they are children, and loss of innocence is a common theme that is represented in many forms of literature in order to express these experiences of harshness. Many authors tend to illustrate their characters with certain backgrounds in order to relate to the reader, and oftentimes ordinary realities are not the best fit. Unfortunately, some children go through significant hardships early in life and not all children have a carefree childhood because their lives are too complicated, resulting in a loss of innocence. Upon reading Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy, and Boyne’s The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, one gains a strong understanding of childhood identity depicted through innocence and experience. More specifically, by examining the similarities and differences in the characters Anne, Harriet and Bruno, it is evident that the authors’ portrayal of innocence is complex, however it is made fluid when their relationships with their parents and friends, as well as their common ignorance is explored. From infancy, children start to closely identify the faces of their loved ones as they strongly depend on these figures to nurture them and to raise them properly. However, in some circumstances not every child is lucky enough to have a stable home. Regrettably, these children are either left to raise themselves, are raised improperly, or are left with a feeling of abandonment. Authors L.M. Montgomery and Louise Fitzhugh illustrate the theme of neglect and desertion through two central protagonists in their novels: Anne Shirley and Harriet Welsch. In Anne of Green Gables, Montgomery tells the story of a young orphan Anne, who is subjected to a set of unfortunate circumstances that leaves her as an orphan. Anne searches for a loving home, however, she’s relegated to foster homes, and less than perfect living conditions. Montgomery describes Anne as a loquacious and imaginative character who manages to be independent, after her parents pass away. This contrasts to Harriet The Spy, where Harriet is neglected even in a household where both biological parents are physically present. Fitzhugh notes that Harriet is a brash, disheveled and adventurous character, while her parents are more focused on their work than on her rearing. Harriet’s parents hire Ole Golly to take full responsibility of Harriet, who then leaves her to get married and as consequence, Harriet loses her one parental figure. Harriet suffers a similar feeling of abandonment that Anne experiences with her biological parents death. A concern that is often present when a child is abandoned by a parental figure is whether or not that child is being raised properly and is receiving adult authority. Montgomery notes that Anne lacks proper manners, suffers from a terrible temper, and has little grasp of proper behavior, which may be a result from a lacking of parental influence. Along with Anne, Harriet is never taught to have impeccable manners; a good example of this is shown when she throws a temper tantrum at her psychiatrist, who is only trying to help her. Anne and Harriet live very different lives, but the experience of parental neglect that they suffer leads to similar effects, namely a constant need for attention. A third character that relates to the theme of neglect, is the protagonist Bruno in John Boyne’s The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, whose parents – whom although strongly enforce discipline, continually disregard Bruno. As a...
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