The American Webster’s dictionary defines innocence as, “Freedom from harmfulness; inoffensiveness.” Although this definition is the one which is most commonly used, many authors tend to twist or stretch the meaning in order to fit the material to which it applies. For example, the way J.D Salinger applies innocence to his work is quite different from the way Mark Twain uses innocence. Innocence also changes accordingly with the time period. The definition of innocence is dynamic with respect to author and time period, as illustrated in The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D Salinger and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain.
Throughout history the concept of innocence in literature has been a topic in which author’s have held an obsession with. According to Harold Bloom, the loss of innocence has played a large role in western literature since the Enlightenment when man was said to be initially good and then corrupted only by his institutions. (Bloom 6) The institution in which Bloom speaks of is nothing more then society. Society is what is believed to be the cause for the loss of innocence in children. Bloom has stated that a return to the childhood mindset would eliminate the social problems in which people suffer. This is unerringly why the cause of many physiological problems can be traced back to a problem or unsettlement in one’s childhood. (Bloom 7) The history of innocence continues further back in history as it is said that the first encounter of loss of innocence or “original sin” was from Adam and Eve when they ate the fruit of the forbidden tree. (Bloom 7) These historical events and ideas are what influence the works of authors from the 19th century to modern day.
As a writer, the success of most authors’ comes from their power to convert common thoughts or knowledge into something which can enlighten the reader. An author thrives on being unique and imaginative. With this originality comes differentiation, when one compares two authors who have used the same literary device in their writings, this becomes apparent. J.D Salinger’s writings involve an enormous amount of childhood concepts and loss of innocence. Mark Twain is also known for his use of innocence in his novels, specifically The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Although the concept behind innocence is basically the same with both authors, each author applies his own interpretation of the definition of innocence. Salinger focuses towards Adultism in his writing. He states that adults are unable to love. (Bloom 7) Salinger’s definition is apparent when looking at the novel The Catcher in the Rye with an analytical eye, because everyone who is capable of loving is either a child or an adult who is influenced by a child. In turn, the adults who are incapable of loving are defined by Holden Caulfield, the protagonist in The Catcher in the Rye, as phonies or prostitutes. (Bloom 7) Holden mentions in the novel the following, “Its Funny. You take adults, they look lousy when their asleep and they have their mouths way open, but kids don’t. Kids look all right.” (Salinger 159) This quote is a clear example of a stronger appreciation for the youth as opposed to the adults. After a comparison, Mark Twain’s definition of innocence is quite different. Twain defines innocence as the naive mindset of children. His definition consists of a belief that because children don’t know, or understand something, they can’t question its validity and form opinions against it. Huck Finn’s spelling of “sivilization” is a pure example of this. Huck’s views and opinions towards civilization are shown through his spelling. He is naive to what civilization really is, therefore he can not form an opinion against it. (Bloom 12) Twain’s use of innocence is merely symbolism. He uses a misspelled word to emphasize the ignorance of children; but, however ignorant they may be, their reason for being so is their innocence.
A comparison of J.D Salinger’s works and those of Mark Twain, will reveal that although their definitions and use of innocence are different, they do link together in many ways. Two novels which are very comparable are J.D Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye and Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The language and tone used by the main characters in each novel are very similar. An analytical view of both novels reveals a similarity to a “David Copperfield” type of narration. (Bloom 25) In the novel, The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield makes a direct reference to this type of narration by saying “that David Copperfield crap.” Although the structures of the novels are similar, they are still quite unique because of each novel’s use of innocence. Salinger references innocence over and over again when referring to children; this is evident in the title. Holden wishes to be “The Catcher in the Rye”, he wants to save children from losing the very essence of their childhood. (French 24) Salinger also references innocence every time he uses the word “phony”. The specific type of innocence used by Salinger in The Catcher in the Rye is also said to be much like the innocence portrayed in Peter Pan. This type of innocence is called “Panism” and accurately describes the style of innocence that Salinger uses. (French 167) Mark Twain’s use of innocence applies to a sense of adolescence. His use of the word “sivilization” is obviously symbolic towards the inexperience or naive nature of Huck Finn. In laymen’s terms, if one were to break down the innocence of Salinger and that of Twain, one would see that the difference in their use of it is simply in their approach to it. Salinger displays a direct approach to the innocence of children by down playing the adults in the novel with the term “phony”. On the other hand, Twain uses an indirect approach towards innocence by clearly showing the naive nature of children and how their naive nature is only because of their innocence.
The very essence of one’s childhood is thought to be innocence. The phenomenon of innocence dates back hundreds of years ago or even thousands. Literature critics have argued endlessly about a clear definition of innocence. The term can be used so widely that it can mean completely different things when taken out of context. The standard Webster’s dictionary has over five definitions for innocence. Its complexity and impact in the human life is so great that physiologists have stated that most adult conflicts involve a problem or disruption of one’s childhood. Harold Bloom has said that many disputes and conflicts in modern day life would be non-existent if a person maintained innocence throughout their aging life. Historians trace back the use of innocence to the Enlightenment, where it was thought that man was created to be good, until his institutions corrupted him. Innocence can also be traced as far back as biblical times. It has been said that the “original sin” by Adam and Eve was the first instance of a loss of innocence. By comparing two novels that use innocence as a theme, as done above, it is evident that innocence is widely dependent on the context in which it is used. There is no clear definitive answer to what the true meaning of innocence is. It can only be stated that the definition of innocence is dynamic with respect to the author and the time period, in which the literature is written.