Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Romance called Childhood


Put a few children on an island with no adults to supervise them.  Watch from a distance what they do.  In no time you will have to intervene in order to save them from themselves.

William Golding wrote a novel on that theme.  Lord of the Flies, the novel by the Nobel laureate, tells the story of some children who were marooned on an island.  Soon savagery dominates their life.  The benign Ralph loses to the bullying Jack.  Evil triumphs.  There is no childhood innocence.   There is only the savagery that marks humanity essentially.

Three years before Lord of the Flies was published, American literature was blessed with J D Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye (1954) which told the story of a 16 year-old boy, Holden Caulfield, whose dream was to preserve children’s innocence from the necessary corruption of adults.  Holden ends up in the loony bin. 

One has to lose innocence if one is to remain sane in the human world.  Growing up is necessarily to embrace evil or at least grapple with it.  There is no escape.  When you die, as Holden tells us in the novel, people will come and put “a bunch of flowers on your stomach on Sunday.”  When you are alive, all they give you is crap.  Holden detested people.  And the psychiatrist thought he was insane.  After a year’s treatment in the asylum, Holden could not begin to love people.  But he was willing to accept their limitations.

Holden didn’t grow up, in short.  Did that help him anyway?  Not at all.  Accepting that human nature is essentially more evil than good is important in the process of growing up.  Childhood innocence is a good romantic notion.  It does no good to anyone trying to make it a gospel.  The harsh reality is that we can only grow up to evil or at least grappling with it; there is no way to grow down to childlike innocence.  The harsh truth is that there is nothing like childlike innocence.  Unless you keep the child locked away from the world of men!

As poet Gerard Manley Hopkins told the little girl Margaret, “as the heart grows older / It will come to such sights colder.”  Margaret has to grow up and learn the sorrows that accompany human existence.  There is no growing down.



18 comments:

  1. I love all of your posts, but this one,so far, is the best post that I have read. I relate with what you have said. I have a belief that maturity comes with experiences. And experiences are the best teachers to show the child in us a pragmatic look of the world outside.

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    1. Experiences are the best teachers. And more often than not, they teach us harsh truths.

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  2. Hopkins lines are so apt....we grow old and we find coldness in relationships everywhere, partly because we have lost the passion of childhood.....

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    1. One of my favorite poems by Hopkins, it shows the inevitability of evil in human life. Man is a "fallen" creature, as Hopkins - a Catholic priest - understood.

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  3. The world makes us do things which we ourselves never imagined. It's all corrupt practices around us that we get infected with!

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    1. True. When there's so much evil all around survival depends on acquiring some of that.

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  4. Yes that is true. But in growing up in an evil world, in becoming mature and losing innocence so much of the spontaneity is lost.

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    1. Inevitable loss. That's why we come across so many people who can't even smile.

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  5. The freedoms of childhood are best recalled in the confines of adulthood Tomichan, but then that confine is the one we have built for one another. As you have quoted variously, there is no escaping that fence. This was a good read.

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    1. Freedom has to be accompanied with responsibility. We are like children insofar as we behave without responsibility. The confines are necessary because of that lingering childhood.

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  6. "One has to lose innocence if one is to remain sane in the human world" - harsh but true.I wish, however, there was some other way. Side-effects of being a parent, I guess.

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    1. I too wish there was some other way. We can't have Rishisringas!

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  7. Childhood is free of notions and speculations but as we start aging the exposure to the world and society makes us adapt to the world and the quest of survival brings harsh changes to befit the world.

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    1. William Golding would say that even if adults are not around, the children will still make a hell out of whatever is available to them.

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  8. Time ones gone never comes back. So is childhood. no matter how hard we try, at some point we all knowingly or unknowingly fall prey to evils.

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  9. Experience sure is a good teacher.Nice article

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    1. Experience may be a painful teacher but a pretty good one. Glad you liked it.

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