(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Unlike many of Brodkey’s short stories collected in Stories in an Almost Classical Mode, “Innocence” was not first published in The New Yorker. Instead, it appeared in New American Review, presumably because of The New Yorker’s reluctance to publish the common four-letter word that is used for copulation. “Innocence” is a story of young lust—as opposed to young love—in which the protagonist, a Harvard undergraduate, achieves what he feared was the unachievable: a sexual encounter with a very popular and beautiful Radcliffe undergraduate, Orra Perkins.

Orra is not inexperienced; she has been intimate with seven or eight men before she meets the narrator. She has never achieved an orgasm with them because, according to her, she is too sexual to have orgasms. She is not overly distressed by this omission and strenuously discourages the narrator from trying to give her the orgasm that he so much wants her to experience. His motive is twofold: He thinks that he will own Orra if he achieves his end, and he also thinks that his own sexual pleasure with her will be enhanced if she can respond more fully to his penetrations.

This story, generally considered to be among Brodkey’s best, is some thirty pages long, of which two-thirds is devoted to presenting a highly detailed account of how Orra is brought to the pinnacle of passion. Before the story ends, Orra not only has her orgasm but, thinking...

(The entire section is 595 words.)

Innocence Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Wiley Silenowicz describes Orra Perkins and begins to explain why he was so obsessed with her. She was more than merely beautiful; her looks were like “a force that struck you.” If someone were to see her in sunlight, that experience might be translated into watching “Marxism die.” Whereas Orra was beauty personified and approachable only by men of money and breeding, Wiley was a young man with neither. Although the odds were against him, however, he was not about to be frightened away from Orra.

The story opens when Wiley and Orra are seniors in college and Wiley has figured out how not to be invisible to her anymore. At the close of the first part of the story, Wiley concludes that to become something more than a “sexual nonentity” to Orra he must get her attention. Orra would be his ultimate sexual adventure. What is it worth, Wiley asks, to be in love this way?

Wiley explains that his recounting of his relationship with Orra will not be orderly. He does not believe that he can do his story justice by remaining calm. To understand, he says, is to tremble. Wiley now details how he lured Orra into a sexual relationship with him. They agreed to meet at his room before they went out to dinner, and Wiley left his door unlocked so that Orra could enter without even knocking. On entering Wiley’s room, Orra was shocked to find him in bed. When he told her that he was naked under the sheet, she cried, “Damn you—why couldn’t you...

(The entire section is 564 words.)