by Aaron Roy Weintraub

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Although it may appear as though "Innocence" is a gratuitous illustration of sex and idealized young love on the surface, the story actually contains several deeper themes, which touch on issues of self-doubt, reticence, dishonesty, and unity. The progression of events between Orra and Wiley, from their first encounter, through their exploration and discovery of one another’s bodies, to their inevitable final embrace, showcases the emergence of a deeper emotional connection between the two which had been fostered by time. It is implied throughout the story that Wiley was only finally able to sexually satisfy Orra because of his ability to break past her veil, to convince her to finally drop her defensiveness and become honest in her relations with him, both in body and in mind.

A central theme that runs throughout Innocence concerns dishonesty. Or perhaps it is better to describe it as inward reservation—the inability for the characters (and people in general) to reveal their true selves through their outward actions or words, the underlying cause of which is a deep-seated sense of personal inadequacy. Orra represents this kind of mentality very clearly in the story. The reader starts off by learning about a girl who displays an outward beauty, sophistication, and arrogance which does little more than turn her into an object of speculation, something to be admired from afar but never approached with any serious inclination. She seems to revel in this artificial self-presentation and actively detaches herself from most of the goings-on at Harvard. When Orra finally does open up to Wiley, even their sex (at the beginning) seems to be dishonest. For example, Wiley explains that the sex he had with Orra was

always a little rasping, something of a failure, if it was just more preparation for sex in a half hour, if coming was just more foreplay.

Not only words and personalities, but even bodies lie to one another in order to hide a desire for deeper connection.

As Orra becomes more enamored with Wiley, the two develop a strong unity together. This unity is not confined to psychology but extends to the body as well and perhaps underlines another important theme of "Innocence"—the inseparability of mind from body. Indeed, the author seems to reverse the common idea that love proceeds from the heart to the body by attesting that, in fact, it also proceeds from the body to the heart. In other words, psychological connection and inner love is not the “strongest” indicator of attachment; the carnal pleasures and passions of the physical body are just as important in cultivating unity between two people. This is exemplified when, after Orra becomes more comfortable with Wiley, the two begin to do things such as adjusting their walking pace to one another. This is, of course, also evident in their final act of making love, in which Orra embraces Wiley and cries only after he is finally able to bring her to an orgasm—something she believed that she would never be capable of. In this instance, it is the physical attraction and act of sex that leads to deep feelings of connection, not the other way around, and in this way "Innocence" is a celebration of the body itself.

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