Innocence Versus Hope

“Thank you, Little Queen. Then you must teach my daughter this same lesson. How to lose your innocence but not your hope. How to laugh forever.” – Amy Tan, The Joy Luck Club

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After finally finishing The Joy Luck Club (which readers will know I have been working on for a while, as evidenced by my posts here and here), I found that I related to the novel on many levels, one of which I actually noticed in between chapters. At the start of each section of the book, Amy Tan includes little italicized anecdotes that provide insight into the section itself. Her last section, “Queen Mother of the Western Skies,” begins with the vignette of a grandmother and her infant grandchild. The grandmother observes the baby and speaks to her, admiring her laughter and reflecting upon her own life experiences.

The grandmother longs for the days when she was “once so free and innocent.” However, after becoming more exposed to the hardships of life, the grandmother becomes hardened by these experiences, and then teaches her daughter to “shed her innocence so she would not be hurt as well.”

Ultimately, the grandmother discusses the happy medium of “how to lose your innocence but not your hope,” and after reading this passage, I couldn’t help but wonder if this is the answer we’ve all been looking for. As we grow up, we find that our lives don’t always turn out as expected, and that people can disappoint us in more ways than one. After a certain number of disappointments, we begin to regret ever trusting in those people and situations we had always counted on, and may start to become cynical. We might not let ourselves get as excited as we would normally want to be, because there is always that nagging voice in the back of our heads, telling us that things might not work out. The internship interview we just completed? Yeah, it went well, but there’s certainly a chance that we screwed up that last question or that someone else had a prettier resume. The boy in sociology class who seems interested? Sure, things seem promising, but he probably only likes sorority girls, anyway. We create our protective barriers because we can’t stand the idea of getting hurt, especially in a world that is completely chaotic and unpredictable.

After two years in college, I have definitely learned a lot about how much I can trust in others, and when I need to be wary around new people and situations. This is important, because it keeps me from repeating the same mistakes and allows me to learn something new every day. However, this loss of “innocence” does not mean I have to be completely negative any time an exciting new opportunity arises; I can still keep my “hope.” I have learned that to have hope in all situations is not a naive trait, but rather a characteristic that keeps us young and vibrant.

In other words, while it is important to have some protective barriers in order to keep out some of the bad, it is equally important to allow in the good as well. We can learn from every experience, regardless of its outcome, and being hopeful can help us get through some of the more difficult ones.

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