Themes in Fiction #5 – Loss of Innocence

“Childhood, after all, is the first precious coin that poverty steals from a child.” ~ Anthony Horowitz

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Sometimes known as ‘coming of age’, Loss of Innocence is an extremely common theme in fiction – perhaps because it’s a journey we all go through. Losing innocence is often thought of as a bad thing, but developing an adult understanding of things can lead to greater empathy and kindness.

Examples

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Leemockingbird

Perhaps the most well known ‘loss of innocence’ story, To Kill A Mockingbird is narrated by Scout, a six year old girl living in 1930s America. Scout’s father is a lawyer who is defending a black man accused of rape. Scout has to try to navigate both growing up, and learning about the terrible racism of her world.

Harper Lee uses Scout’s changing viewpoint to gently nudge the reader into changing theirs. The heartbreak Scout experiences as she learns of the cruelty of the world tugs on the reader’s heart strings until they are almost forced to see things her way. Not so much of a leap, these days, but in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement when the book was first published, Scout’s loss of innocence would have been a difficult emotional journey for many readers to undergo.

Curious IncidentThe Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

Christopher may be fifteen, but his Asperger’s Syndrome renders him more innocent than most. His world is carefully structured to make things easy for him, but when the next door neighbour’s dog is killed, Christopher finds himself on a journey of discovery that opens his eyes to what the world is really like.

This is loss of innocence with such an interesting perspective, and though Christopher’s journey is the sort of thing most of us would take in our strides, we feel every challenge and difficulty as though it’s insurmountable. Again, Haddon uses the loss of innocence theme to get the reader to view things outside of their perspective, to empathise and understand.

Loss of Innocence in Epic Fantasy

the amber spyglassHis Dark Materials Trilogy by Philip Pullman

Loss of innocence is a central theme in Pullman’s epic His Dark Materials trilogy. The characters have ‘daemons’ that shift shape until puberty when they settle to reflect the personality of the character. Scientists perform terrible experiments to try and prevent this happening – believing that the loss of innocence to be the introduction of sin. A whole epic war is fought over this assumption, crossing boundaries into the multiverse as Lyra and Will, two children, attempt to stop everything being destroyed. Along the way they discover that a loss of innocence is a natural and necessary part of growing up, one that makes the universe go round.

Pullman takes the idea of Loss of Innocence and blows it up to the extreme. His trilogy explores every avenue of the theme on the most epic of scales, settling on the moral message that growing up, and change, is good. Sometimes we hurt, but to remain the same is to take away everything that makes us alive.

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