deterioration of their mental and emotional well-being, causing them to make decisions that go against their own interest. When a child is mostly isolated from society, it can lead to a creation of a fantasy world in which everything works out the way they want it to because that is all they know; in this case, their ignorance about the cruelty in the world is blissful. For Briony Tallis(who is this and where is she from), this was her reality until she was thirteen years old. She wrote childish fairytale-like stories, which basically consisted of a damsel in distress, a heroin that saves her, and their eventual unity in marriage.
She could not begin to understand the true complexities of adult love and sexuality. Briony’s explanations for life events came from what she read. When the young girl witnesses the strange encounter between her sister and her sister’s childhood friend by the fountain, she misinterprets everything; “What was less comprehensible, however, was how Robbie imperiously raised his hand now, as though issuing a command which Cecilia dared not disobey. It was extraordinary that she was unable to resist him. At his insistence, she was removing her clothes, and at such speed” (McEwan 36). Briony had written about proposals of marriage before, as she thought this encounter was, but she had never seen anything like this before, and the complexities of their behavior greatly confused her.
Cecilia’s bold actions had only one explanation for Briony: Robbie had threatened Cecilia. Now, Briony felt awakened to new information which she did not encounter in her usual books; she had discovered “an impartial psychological realism”(38). Without guidance or explanation from any adult, Briony would have to find an explanation for this event for herself.
Fortunately for her, she received substantial evidence, from Robbie himself. Robbie’s letter, read and analyzed by Briony, made her feel uncomfortable and confused, especially because it contained the word ‘c***t’, “No one in her presence had ever referred to the word’s existence, and what was more, no one, not even her mother, had ever referred to the existence of that part of her to which—Briony was certain—the word referred” (107). She never expected to encounter this word or to be awakened to the existence of her sexual organs, and it scared her to think that a man could imagine this image in his head. This previously unknown part of her being talked about so openly by another person made her feel unguarded, so she felt like she needed to protect her sister from Robbie. Discovering Cecilia and Robbie at the library was the last piece of evidence Briony needed to make a conclusion, “her immediate understanding was that she had interrupted an attack. . .His left hand was behind her neck, gripping her hair, and with his right he held her forearm which was raised in protest, or self defense” (116).
Briony is now certain that Robbie is a crazed man who can attack anyone, because she had never witnessed anything like this before, she is quick to assume so. Once Lola is sexually assaulted outside of the Tallis home, Briony finds a perfect chance to tell the adults about the conclusion she had made on her own. Lola, at merely fifteen years old was expected to grow up quickly when she and her brothers were basically abandoned by their parents at the Tallis home.
To compensate for her need to quickly grow up, she created an air of maturity by dressing and acting like an adult. Despite this air she created for herself, she still never expected to be assaulted like this, especially by a man who was kind to her, or so she thought. When it came to the accusation, she allowed Briony to do all the talking, for she was too much in shock, “Nothing much was ever required of Lola after that, for she was able to retreat behind an air of wounded confusion” (157).
Lola experienced an immediate psychological block after being assaulted, the shock from the suddenness of the horrid situation prevented her from speaking about the situation ever again. If she ever talked about it again she would return to the night it happened to her, so it was more convenient for her to store it in the back of her mind, even though all she will ever do in her life from then on will be affected by this situation. As soon as Briony is old enough to understand the gravity of what her false testimony against Robbie has done to him and Cecilia, she feels extremely guilty; enough to feel like her life is practically over. She decides to abandon her passion for writing stories, to become a nurse; the worst form of torture for her, as she will no longer be able to use her creativity. Her vivid imagination and orderly nature are the characteristics of her mental well-being as a child, now her regret and disappointment disrupt her.
She is slowly destroying the Briony Tallis she once knew, to become a nameless detached nurse. “Physical discomfort helped close down Briony’s mental horizons. The high starched collars rubbed her neck raw. The shoes she had to buy with her own money fiercely pinched her toes” (259).
After countless times of aiding injured soldiers, she becomes accustomed to seeing gore almost every day. She even pretends to be the fiancé of a soldier whose brain has been partially blown off. The young Briony Tallis would have never agreed to this, as it would disrupt the tidiness in her life.
On the other hand, Lola decides to take an even more distressing path for her life. The incident of her sexual assault caused her to feel shame and powerlessness, especially because she allowed Briony to accuse the wrong person. As a cause of this, Lola feels like it is her fault, so she cannot reveal the identity of her attacker because it would ruin his reputation, so instead, she decides to marry him. This allows her to hide her shame, and in a way, cover up his crime. Lola’s mental well-being has deteriorated so much that she wants to protect her rapist; the one who took her innocence and the relative natural direction that her life was headed in. In a way, Lola’s rape allowed her to become one of the most well-known elite women of London. She could have thought of this situation as something dreadful that needed to happen before anything good could happen to her. Both Briony and Lola show an extreme disruption of their mental and emotional well-being after their innocence is lost with the effects of an ill-fated event.
As shown in Atonement, isolation from society can greatly partake in the detrimental loss of innocence of a young person. In Lord of the Flies, a group of English schoolboys crash land on a deserted island with no adults creating a destructive situation. From then on, they would have to learn on their own, and from each other, how to survive. Children resuming the role of adults cannot be any better than it sounds; children do not have the experience or knowledge to resume these roles. The guises that the boys will partake on are based on what they already know because it was either taught to them by an adult, or they experienced it in their lives thus far. With the absence of adults the boys, especially Jack, feel like they can do whatever they want, all the behaviors they suppressed around adults will be released. The British choir boys with their sweet innocent voices and nice clothing symbolize innocence, and when they take them off to roam around the island barely clothed, it foreshadows the brutal events that will follow. Instead of representing innocence and vulnerability, their nakedness symbolizes the opposite: savagery and strength; when they take their clothes off they are suddenly more capable of violence and destruction.
When a few of the boys discover a piglet in the forest, Jack attempts to kill it, but he freezes because he is terrified, as any child would be,”because of the enormity of the knife descending and cutting into living flesh; because of the unbearable blood”(Golding 31). Jack’s current inability to kill, greatly angers him. His need to prove himself strong and capable is one of the main factors that leads him to his impassive savagery. Like Briony, the boys experience a change in identity because of the loss of their innocence. For example, when Jack decided to paint his face it showed his drastic change from an innocent choir boy to a bloodthirsty savage, “He looked in astonishment, no longer at himself but at an awesome stranger. He split the water and leapt to his feet, laughing excitedly. .
.He began to dance, and his laughter became a bloodthirsty snarling” (63-64). Comparable to Briony, Jack deliberately changes his identity to disguise his past self. But, unlike Jack, Briony chooses to diminish her previous identity to atone for her past mistakes, and suffers while doing so.
Contrastingly, Jack enjoys his newly formed identity, so much that he dances in excitement. After killing his first pig, Jack’s mental welfare significantly declines, “His mind was crowded with memories; memories of the knowledge that had come to them when they closed in on the struggling pig, knowledge that they had outwitted a living thing, imposed their will upon it, taken away its life like a long satisfying drink” (70). Jack has become so bloodthirsty that he cannot stop thinking about the satisfaction he felt when he killed the pig, even dismissing the fact that they could have possibly been rescued.
At this point, the boys act without fear of punishment, as they probably would have not in their previous life. This is clearly evident when the boys gruesomely murder Simon and Piggy and plan to hunt Ralph; Simon’s murder being the most horrifying, “There were no words, and no movements but the tearing of teeth and claws” (153). The boys are so far gone that they truly believe that there is a beast on the island that according to Jack can never be killed. Metaphorically, the beast represents the savage mental-state that the boys have ended up with after landing on the island, and it can never be killed because there is no way that the ‘beast’ that forever lives in the boys will ever leave, even after returning to civilization.
Although the island is beautiful and peaceful, the boys’ lack of experience and knowledge on how to act in a situation like this lead them to act on their innate violent nature to make their decisions, which then caused a quick spiral to the deterioration of their civilized mentality. As evidently shown in Lord of Flies, the presence of adults is an important factor in maintaining the natural order of a child’s development into adulthood. In the motion picture of The Outsiders, the long-term effects of adults not being present or helpful in a child’s life is clearly shown in the character of Dallas Winston. He grew up on the streets and learned early how to depend upon himself. Now as an older adolescent, he has a record of violence and destruction. Because of this, he is very compassionate towards Johnny; Dallas wants him to avoid Johnny ending up like him. The two youngest adolescent boys of the greasers, Ponyboy and Johnny, are the only ones who have not completely lost their innocence yet. Like all the other boys of their gang, the adults in their lives are either gone or a bad influence; Ponyboy’s parents were killed in a car accident, while Johnny’s are abusive alcoholics.
To escape their misery the boys, spend most of their time with the older adolescent boys, which now serve as their guides into adulthood. Despite the violence that revolves around the two rival gangs, innocently, Ponyboy still chooses to appreciate the little things in life like sunsets, reading, and watching films. The moment Ponyboy and Johnny are attacked by a group of socs their innocence is at stake, and they are forced to make a mature decision. In this case, it had to be Johnny. Johnny’s decision to kill one of the socs was one of life or death; the attack came so suddenly that there was no time to contemplate the consequences of taking someone else’s life. Immediately after Johnny kills the other boy, he feels extremely guilty and disturbed. To reassure himself that no evil was intended in his crime he tells Ponyboy, “I had to. They were going to drown you” (The Outsiders).
Like Jack from Lord of the Flies, Johnny’s psychological well-being starts declining after the act of killing a living thing. For Jack, killing progressively makes him want to see more blood, like an addiction, and the memories of the incident are gratifying, “memories of the knowledge. . .that they had outwitted a living thing. . .
taken away its life like a long satisfying drink”(Golding 70). While for Johnny, killing traumatizes him, the horrible memories constantly replaying in his head, “I killed a kid last night. He couldn’t have been more than seventeen or eighteen years old, and I killed him. How would you like to live with that!” (The Outsiders). Nothing can reassure Johnny that what he did was ever going to be accepted, especially because he killed a young person that hardly lived long enough; completely chattering their possibly good future. A bit different than the previous literary works, The Catcher in the Rye presents Holden, an adolescent boy who struggles to move on to adulthood after the event that caused the destruction of his childhood. Because of this, Holden’s enemy is the adult world and the cruelty and artificiality that revolves around it. When he was a younger boy he experienced the death of his younger brother, Allie, who died from leukemia, “I was only thirteen, and they were going to have me psychoanalyzed and all, because I broke all the windows in the garage.
. .I slept in the garage the night he died, and I broke all the goddam windows with my fist, just for the hell of it” (39).
Holden cannot understand why someone that is so young and talented would have to die before growing up; from then on Holden will struggle to keep his mind off Allie and death. Correspondingly, in The Outsiders, Ponyboy also goes through a great deal of suffering after two of his loved ones die. After Dallas and Johnny die, he feels completely empty, but after a while, he learns to accept their death, and remember them by not from how they died, but what they lived for. However, it takes Holden a lot longer to accept Allie’s death, because he felt that Allie was so much better than he was, and he did not deserve to die so soon. This leads to the constant thoughts Holden has about death and suicide, the pointlessness Holden sees in life after Allie’s death, constantly bring him thoughts about the worth of life. Like Allie’s death was not already enough for him, he also witnesses the suicide of one of his classmates at Elkton Hills, “there was old James Castle laying right on the stone steps and all.
He was dead, and his teeth, and blood, were all over the place” (170). Anything he thinks about leads back to death, either Allie’s or James’. The suddenness of living and dying terrifies Holden.
Learning about death is shocking for a child, but witnessing it themselves is something completely different; their peaceful mental-state as a child will forever be perturbed. The discovery of the violence and evil that exists in the world is usually done so gradually, throughout different stages in a young person’s life. When the violence is discovered by a child without any warning or explanation, it is very likely that their mental health will be negatively affected; causing them trauma and stress.
This is the case in the short story “The Flowers”, where Myop, a young African-American girl discovers a man’s corpse on her short adventure away from her home. While at her family’s sharecropping farm she feels like each day is a “golden surprise” (Walker web). She absolutely has no care in the world as of now; Myop just enjoys harvesting the crops on the farm and taking innocent nature walks. While on her walk away from her family’s farm she detects the minute details that she encounters; appreciating nature and truly being at peace. Never expecting to encounter any danger, she decides to make her own path without her mother present. Like repeated in Lord of the Flies and The Outsiders, the absence of adults summons trouble. Her sense of comfort quickly diminishes after her realization of how far away she was from her home; she felt alone and vulnerable. As soon as she steps on the dead man’s head, metaphorically her childhood is shattered.
Even though she seems unperturbed at first, when she notices the horrific details of the man’s body everything starts crashing down, “It was only when she saw his naked grin that she gave a little yelp of surprise”(Walker web). When she realizes that the man was probably killed intentionally and violently, “Myop laid down her flowers” (Walker web). Unlike in Lord of the Flies, Myop shows a sign of maturity when she pays respect for the dead man, while Jack shows no respect or mercy for dead beings. But, like Catcher in the Rye, both Myop and Holden develop a harsher view on life after witnessing death, and the unfairness of someone’s life having to end so soon.
Myop’s summer, a time of bright carefree adventure, has come to an end.Children discovering violence on their own is traumatizing, but when they are suddenly forced to participate in a dangerous situation, it can be even more detrimental to their relatively healthy state of mind. In “Arms and the Boy” a young boy who is forced to fight in a war, is given numerous destructive weapons that could take another man’s life in a matter of minutes, “Let the boy try along this bayonet-blade/ How cold steel is, and keen with hunger of blood” (Owen web). Although the weapons that are introduced and handled by the boy are malicious; they do not fit him, because after all, he is still a child.
Unfortunately, the boy will eventually have to embrace killing to survive the war. The boy will forever be haunted by the gory memories of war, even while he sleeps. As in Lord of the Flies, the boys also had to get accustomed to killing for their survival, however, the boys began to enjoy killing; the traumatizing event revealed an innate evil within them that was yet to be discovered. While in both The Catcher in the Rye and The Outsiders, innocence is tried to be preserved, and in “Arms and the Boy”, it is unsuccessful because the events the characters endure have no way of preserving the undisturbed state of mind the child previously had. Innocence will be lost one way or the other in someone’s life, but when it is snatched away by a violent event, that person will endure emotional and mental challenges throughout the rest of their lives. This violent event is permitted by the absence or lack of support from adults.
Once the young person endures the dangerous event, they can experience a slipping away of identity, a state of depression and denial, and a diminishing of their humanity. All of these characteristics are shown in the previous works, where the characters endure great difficulty coping with the events that stripped their childhood away.