Innocence Themes (John Francis Whelan)

John Francis Whelan

Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

As the title indicates, the story concerns the nature of innocence, sin, and forgiveness. The narrator reflects on how the Catholic Church’s practice of preparing children for confession does not introduce them to the real world, especially the fear of knowing that one has done something “wicked.” Confession is a game for most children, a ritual that marks the boundary between childhood and maturity.

As the narrator-father muses on his son’s transparent and innocent lying, he recalls “the first time that I had committed sin.” The emphasis is on knowledge, one’s coming to awareness. Because the occasion is pivotal to his growth, the narrator provides a meticulous description of the setting and cultural context: The Church connotes Saint Augustine’s view of the inherent sinfulness of man; the gloomy and battered surroundings evoke neglect, exhaustion, and fragility. Opposed to this bleak atmosphere is the narrator’s love for the bright candles surrounding Saint Monica, the mother of Saint Augustine, and his adolescent fascination with dark nooks and “the stuffy confessional boxes with their heavy purple curtains.”

If one scrutinizes the motive that made the narrator (as an adolescent) decide to play the game and confess having committed adultery, one perceives that it was the experience of “terror that crept into me like a snake,” a dread like that of a criminal suddenly apprehended by a police officer, that compelled him to deviate from his usual practice of confession.

More revealing is the process of his shock at the insistent questioning by the old priest into the details of his sin, his panic at the thought of “harm” done to him. What shocks him more, spawning “horrible shapes...

(The entire section is 713 words.)