Often, we as humans tend to separate ourselves from stories and myths. If a story is fictitious, we immediately dismiss any possibility of relating and learning from it. However, some archetypal events and themes observed in literature may be far more real than we wish to admit. The loss of innocence is one such archetype. Despite having broad definition, the effects of the loss of innocence are narrow. Commonly, an innocent or ignorant individual experiences an event or realization causing a shift towards experience and knowledge.
Archetypes are present in Roman and Greek myths, and are still used today, sometimes unknowingly, in stories, songs, and poems. This is likely because it is a reflection of events in our own lives, to a certain extent. The innocence of youth, prevalence of a life-changing event, and experience of adults are all observed in life and literature alike. Before a shift towards the knowledge and understanding associated with experience, the loss of innocence archetype explains that a person is first unknowing, or ignorant.
Innocence is often identified through a belief in, among other things, the reliability of appearances, stability & permanence, and immortality. Many literary figures concerning in the loss of innocence are youthful, although don’t unreservedly have to be so. Pandora, the first woman in Greek mythology, embodies many of these traits. In the myth Pandora’s Box, she is portrayed as being assuming and curious. Given a gift from each god, Pandora is created with the intent of her opening the vase also gifted to Epimitheus.
Her decision to open the vase, as Zeus had anticipated, is reflective of her personality. She is asked not to do so, but goes against her husband’s request. Pandora believes that she will not be harmed opening the vase, life shall continue as before, and the vase is simply a container, nothing more. Primarily, this is because of her belief in immortality, stability & permanence, and the reliability of appearances. Consequently, both her and Epimitheus are punished and suffer from her decision. Other stories, like Adam and Eve, also deal with the idea of a prohibited object or action.
Traits observed in these stories are generally associated with children in real life. Before young individuals gain experience and maturity, their curiosity, supported by a belief in the reliability of appearances, and inability to identify danger, or belief of immortality and stability, may cause them to endanger themselves such as Pandora did when opening the vase. In youth, this may be attempting to descend stairs or performing a dangerous action when told not to. Instances seen among older children may include disobeying parents to go out, or committing a crime because of friends.
Within the loss of innocence archetypal event, a person experiences a life-changing event or realization, often in their late youth, before they can move towards experience or knowledge. As one initially moves from innocence to experience they may feel resentment, insecurity, or sorrow. Before they accept their new understandings and responsibilities, they may first see hypocrisy. The fairytale, Hansel and Gretel, is one of many examples illustrating this. Before they are held captive by the witch, Hansel And Gretel are seemingly carefree despite being removed from their home.
Their misled views on the gingerbread house’s safety and appearance lead to their imprisonment, and potential death. As the story progresses, Hansel and Gretel devise and act upon a plan to free themselves. The story ends as the children reunite with their father after overcoming seemingly certain death. However, not all is the same after the children’s return. They have realized the deceptiveness of appearances, the ability of things and people to change, and that them themselves could have died.
Their experience had caused a shift towards experience and knowledge, allowing them to escape. Other notable stories using a comparable format include How To Kill A Mockingbird and Lord Of The Flies. Outside literature, there are several reasons why a person might experience the loss of innocence. The death of a parent, friend, or loved one, is a broad example. However, the loss of innocence may be caused by simpler events, such as moving away from a friend’s neighborhood or losing a childhood keepsake.
The loss of one’s innocence is not limited to an event; some may lose their innocence through philosophizing or reflecting upon their past, accepting new and different ideas about the world. As an individual shifts towards experience or knowledge, their beliefs are also said to change. The reliability of appearances, stability & permanence, and immortality are replaced with beliefs that appearances are deceptive, things and people change, and people do not live infinitely. Popular characters in cinema, such as Yoda, in Star Wars, or Gandalf, from Lord Of The Rings, both embody these traits.
An experienced or knowledgeable character, however, does not absolutely have to be old. Athena, a goddess featured in Greek Mythology, also displays many of these characteristics. In the myth Athena And Arachne, Athena is challenged to try her weaving and embroidery skills against those of Arachne under the condition that if she wins, Arachne is to pay with her life. Athena attempts to convince Arachne to bow down from the challenge, however, cannot make her see the error in her decision.
Arachne stands by her words, assuming she will not be harmed, Athena will be an equal competitor, and that life will continue as before. In this situation, Arachne is portrayed as being innocent, or ignorant. Subsequently, Arachne loses to Athena who decides to spare her life instead turning her in to a spider. Athena recognizes that she could have let Arachne to die, although, also recognizes that people have the capacity to change and so lets Arachne experience her guilt and shame.
Her experience, or knowledge, allows her to make this decision. Teachers, parents, or other people who play a role in mentorship or leadership are commonly said to be experienced or knowledgeable. An experienced person in real life accepts themselves, their understanding of the world, and their responsibilities. As a society, we are consistently changing and refining ourselves. If one incident has been consistent throughout human history, it has been the capability to influence and create change.
Although the loss of innocence may not be a large change, it defines the difference between youth and adult, a concept that has been prominent in our society since it’s very creation. Children, the innocent, are educated in schools and raised by parents so they can one day become experienced. Upon a closer look at the loss of innocence archetype in literature, we may begin to draw parallels from the innocence, life-changing events, and experience of those within stories with our own. Although literature will never fully describe humans, we may look to stories, songs, and movies, to help make sense of our own lives.
Courtney from Study Moose
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