Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Harold Brodkey’s story can be read on more than one level. “Innocence” clearly concerns itself with the evolution of two lovers discovering their own sexuality; however, Brodkey is also saying much more. Concerned with shedding light on the dark corners of a person’s mind, he and his character Wiley are one and the same person. As a character, Wiley appears in several Brodkey short stories.

The beautiful young woman, Orra, in this story has been regarded as a “trophy” to the men she has known and has exerted control over them by remaining aloof. After Wiley decides that he wants more than mere sex, he is willing to go on a quest without really knowing where it will end. For her part, Orra has already made compromises in her young life. She has made herself into an icon, but in so doing has remained ignorant of her true self. As Wiley and Orra develop their relationship, sexual awakening is the story’s central focus. However, as in other Brodkey stories, this focus is merely a metaphor for something larger. As college students, Wiley and Orra take a journey together toward self-discovery. Wiley may not be totally secure as a person himself, but his willingness to probe every avenue, to kick over every rock, allows both he and Orra to grow. Wiley wants more from Orra than she has been willing to give to any man in the past.

In an interview, Brodkey has said that “Innocence” is about “earning” and not just about sexual...

(The entire section is 552 words.)