Innocence is usually associated with youth and ignorance. The loss of one’s innocence is associated with the evils of the world. However, the term “innocence” can be interpreted in a variety of ways. Similarly, the loss of one’s innocence can be interpreted in more than one way, and, depending on the interpretation, it may happen numerous times. The loss of innocence
is culture specific and involves something that society holds sacrosanct. It is also bounded by different religious beliefs. Still, no matter which culture or religion is at hand, there is always more than one way to lose one’s innocence, and every member of that particular culture or religion experiences a loss of innocence at least once in their lives. In addition, the individual’s loss of innocence will impair him or her emotionally and/or physically.
Committing a crime of some sort will certainly cause an individual to lose his or her innocence with emotional scars
and perhaps with physical scars. In Native Son, by Richard Wright, Bigger Thomas
accidentally suffocates his boss’ daughter to death. Suddenly, Bigger feels a strength that had been dormant in him, a sense of control and power over another person. Although the murder is accidental, Bigger Thomas experiences a loss of innocence that enables him to kill others also, including his own girlfriend. Yet, with the power he believes he had acquired from his loss of innocence, he also obtains an abundance of guilt and fear. Bigger knows that he had performed a terrible act, and because of this he feels guilty. Also, he begins to fear that he would be caught. Bigger becomes very paranoid after the murder and ultimately is caught and executed anyway. The case of Bigger Thomas is almost tragic. His loss of innocence, an accident, causes him to become a dishonest and dishonorable person. He is unable to forget the event and bears guilt and fear until he is executed.
Knowing a victim of an unforgettable and unforgivable crime will cause a person to lose a type on innocence. However, witnessing the heinous violation of the victim is much stronger. After the witness sees and hears the exact event, it is nearly impossible to disregard his or her memory. This is true in the short story “In the Shadow of War.” The protagonist of the literary work, a young boy named Omovo, witnesses the killing of a woman. He is unable to forget the moment he had heard the gunshot. As the scene replays in his mind, Omovo begins to increasingly fear for his own life and runs away, feeling vulnerable and unprotected. Upon witnessing the murder of the woman, Omovo realizes the fragility of his own life. This realization is his loss of innocence, a realization that strikes fear in his heart. Omovo continues through the story with this new emotional impairment.
Sometimes, the loss of innocence can be caused simply through the acknowledgement of another’s situation. In America, this is the reasoning behind past imperialism. Americans think that it was their duty, as the wealthiest country, to “assist” other countries, usually Third World countries. They sympathize with the people of poor countries when they learn of their comfort of living. This acknowledgement and acceptance becomes a loss of innocence. Americans learn that there is worse in the world. Likewise, Lise, from the short story “The Ring,” finds a man in a small hiding place. She feels sympathy for this man, whom she has assumed had lived a difficult life. The man, dressed in rags, holds a knife in one hand and has a broken arm. Despite the fear that this man had instills in her, out of compassion and fear, Lise offers him her wedding ring. When Lise sees the man, she is terrorized at first. But she accepts the appearance of the man and acknowledges the tremendously arduous life that he lives. By accepting this, she also accepts the knowledge that there are people who are less fortunate than herself. This is her loss of innocence. In response to her offer, the man kicks the ring away and leaves her unharmed. Yet, Lise will never be able to forget the meeting and her fear and acknowledgement will taunt her the rest of her life.
Being in the midst of hardship also leads to a loss of innocence. An individual is more desperate during tough times and have a tendency to be impulsive. Because of this, learning to survive through the difficult situations becomes a loss of innocence. In The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck, the Joad family has to migrate to find work during the Great Depression. The family faces many difficulties and a few members leave the family. Through the journey Tom Joad, the main character of the novel, acquires a rare strength, thoughtfulness, and moral certainty. Through his struggles, Tom realizes that he cannot stand by as a silent witness to the world's injustices; he cannot work for his own family's well being by taking bread from another family. Ultimately, his loss of innocence compels him to leave the family in order to set out on a course of public action. Tom’s loss of innocence gives him strength he will have to help others the rest of his life, but it also gives him a sense of sadness, from the situation of his family, and loneliness, from his accepted purpose in life. These feelings will stay with him as he helps others who are also struggling to survive.
Being in a life of drama, betrayal and love, easily causes a character to lose his or her innocence. In the book Memoirs of a Geisha,” the main character, Sayuri, is taken away from her father. She experiences her first loss of innocence when she feels betrayed and learns to cope with isolation. She is pained by what has happened to her, which makes her vulnerable for the rest of the novel. Later on in the novel, Sayuri experiences a second loss of innocence when she becomes the traitor. Sayuri betrays her friend Pumpkin to become the daughter of Okiya by using information that Pumpkin attains from Hatsumomo. Her desire to become the daughter of Okiya is rooted in her first loss of innocence. The desire became stronger than her morals and allows her to betray Pumpkin. This loss of innocence is not without consequence. After Sayuri becomes the daughter of Okiya, she discovers that she is emotionally empty, impairing her happiness. Finally, Sayuri experiences a third loss of innocence throughout the novel. When she was younger and felt unwanted, “the chairman” carries out a kind act and gives her a handkerchief. Sayuri is never able to forget this occurrence, and as time passes, she cannot help herself from falling in love with him. Her love for the chairman does not impair Sayuri emotionally but physically. She receives what she had wanted, but she must work as a housewife the rest of her life.
In a religious sect, a single sin committed by a member– his or her loss of innocence – can change the person’s life forever. Nathaniel Hawthorne illustrates this best in The Scarlet Letter. Hester Pryne commits adultery in Salem, a strict Puritan community. She is unable to hide her sin because the birth of her daughter, Pearl. The leaders of Salem proceed to punish Hester for adultery by condemning her to wear a scarlet colored “A” on her clothes. Such a sin is an obvious loss of innocence in a society of conformity. The residents of Salem look down upon Hester, but Hester chooses to wear the letter with pride. Hester, along with her mate Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, gets a new strength from her suffering. She feels guilty for her actions, and she is unable to forget her intimacy with the reverend. The reverend also cannot forget his intimacy with Hester. Although the public does not know of his transgressions, his loss of innocence causes him to suffer tremendous guilt. He slowly loses his ability to function in the Puritan society as a reverend. This is also symbolized by his weakening health.
In American popular culture, the loss of innocence is characterized as the loss of one’s virginity and the first exposure to alcohol and drugs. However, there are much more ways for an individual to lose his or her innocence. The action or experience that causes the loss of innocence is one that is unforgettable, whether it is a good memory or a terrible memory. The experience makes people feel guilty, culpable, fearful, dishonest, insecure, vulnerable, or trapped. If a person feels one or more of these feelings, it is a signal that they have lost some sort of innocence. The most important aspect of the loss of innocence is that it can never be regained. The scars that it leaves heal as time passes, but never disappears. This is the loss of purity.