Olive Senior, in her collection of short stories Summer Lightning, uses child protagonists to highlight and criticize many aspects of the society they are raised in, and the destructive quality these have on the innocent world of the child.
In 'Love Orange', Senior uses symbolism to highlight the tragedy of the loss of childhood innocence due to the experiences and harsh reality of the adult world. This story shows a child so influenced by the intrusion of the world outside of childhood, that the reality and seriousness of adult concerns such as death and old age, along with a severe lack of communication and understanding, wipes away the bliss and carefree innocence associated with childhood.
This is illustrated within the first lines of 'Love Orange' which states, "somewhere between the repetition of Sunday School lessons and the broken doll which the lady sent me one Christmas I lost what it was to be happy" (p.11). The broken doll is symbolic of childhood hope being dashed away by the lack of understanding on the part of adults, as the little girl yearns strongly for a "plaster doll with blue eyes and limbs that moved." The child is crushed as she sees the mutilated doll with "the one China blue eye and the missing finger" and all hopes and dreams of a child are drained from her. She becomes the damaged doll which is depicted as a personification of death and fear, youthful symbolism that cannot be understood by the adults in the story. Plagued by death, both in dreams and awake, the girl must endure her distress alone for her grandmother "never understood about the doll" and the painful effect it had on her. This disappointment at finding that the doll she so longed for was deformed, is only compensated for by the love-orange which she constantly 'conjures' for protection in a world populated by disfigurement and death.
Thus the orange becomes a final source of strength for the girl to hold on to. This symbol of love and childhood imagination is all she has left as even her dreams are tainted with images of her own death. However, this symbol too is beyond adult acceptance as seen when, upon her grandmother's final struggle with death, the child decides to relinquish the whole of her orange in the hope that she may recover. This gesture by the young protagonist signifies an absolute surrender of love; however, recognition of reality where death and pain cannot be wished away is forced upon her. Alison Donnell in "The Short Fiction of Olive Senior," Caribbean Women Writers: Fiction in English, suggest that "in learning that the gift of love is both more complex and demanding than she had thought and that the death of loved ones cannot always be deferred, the young narrator accepts the loss of childhood and of a secure future which can never be recaptured: 'In leaving my grandmother's house, the dark tunnel of my childhood, I slammed the door hard on my fingers and as my hand closed over the breaking bones, felt nothing'. The girl now is destroyed by these childhood experiences and is beyond salvage." It is significant that she may now lead a broken life as her dreams, hopes and attempt to give love and be understood have all been shattered.
As in 'Love Orange', the child protagonist Benjy in 'The Boy Who Loved Ice Cream' also has an intense longing; ice cream. His desire for this was so strong that "the very words conveyed to him the sound of everything in his life he had always wanted, always longed for, but could not give a name to." However, like the girl in 'Love Orange' and the doll, Benjy too faces imminent disappointment and broken hopes. Upon the arrival of the day of the fair, the purchase of the ice cream by his father is constantly delayed until the boy reaches the peak of his frustration.
"The simple nature of Benjy's boyish desire is...