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Loss of Innocence

Loss of Innocence

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Published by Mags
English 102 essay on Islands by Aleksandar Hemon. focus on main characters innocence.
English 102 essay on Islands by Aleksandar Hemon. focus on main characters innocence.

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Published by: Mags on Jul 31, 2014
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 Borowy 1
Malgorzata Borowy Instr. Kris Piepenburg English 102-53 May 7, 2014 Loss of Innocence
“Something is always forever gone, but on occasion you get something in return. In fact,
things are forever gone, once they are gone… So living with a loss is necessary,” (Hemon
qtd in Berman and Hemon 72: 38). The idea of losing yourself, your identity, your innocence, is difficult to transform and present in a meaningful representation. Aleksandar Hemon has done just that through his  portrayal of a relationship between an uncle and his nephew in the short
story “Islands”. “Islands”
reveals a summer trip made by the narrator where he discovered a world of historical significance unknown to him. The main character, a nine year old boy, takes a trip with his immediate family to visit his Uncle Julius and Aunt Lyudmila on the island of Mljet, Croatia. The boy is weary of his new surroundings, the unkempt boat which his family and he make the trip on, to the quaint house of Aunt Lyudmila. Uncle Julius reveals to him the story behind the pests of the island, the snake and mongoose; the heartwarming tale of his grandfather
and his bees; the unsettling tale of his stay in a children‟s
confinement camp; and the astonishing recollection and correlation of seeing a one hundred and fifty-eight year old man reverting back to the simple comforts just like an infant. The boy learns of his uncl
e‟s troubled past and parallels his viewpoints on life. “Islands” is
 a powerful, eye-opening, compelling, and cautionary story that presents a young boy shedding his naive attitude of life by way of
his uncle‟s astonishing
tales of his troubled past. Uncle Julius is an unforgiving, competent, experienced, troubled, direct and straightforward person who has lived a difficult childhood filled with tournament and misery impacted by the violence of war. The narrator, a young boy, is complacent, immature, and trustful person who is being taught the harsh realities of life by his
uncle. “Islands”
reveals the repercussions of growing up in political war state as se
en in Uncle Julius‟s character.
 Borowy 2
Additionally, the story presents the impact of Uncle Julius‟s traumatic war stories on the
 psychological development of the narrator. Aleksandar Hemon, a Bosnian contemporary writer, emigrated to the United States in 1992 as a  journalist, in the beginning of a political and cultural conflict between the Balkan states. He
“intended to
stay for only a short time, but when war erupted in his country he applied to stay in the United States as
a refugee” (“Aleksandar Hemon” 150). He
 began writing fiction in English while attending graduate
school. “I couldn‟t, for some reason, write in Bosnian. I think it‟s because the war cut me off – 
 literally,  but also it was outside my experience. I was not shot at or killed, and for some reason I thought I had
not right to use that language. I had not earned it by being there” (Hemon qtd in Kaminski par. 9).
Hemon did write of the history and impact growing up in Bosnia had on him. His first collection of short fiction
, “Question for Bruno,” “highlights certain trends in contemporary writing: extreme self 
-consciousness, a strong
sense of belatedness, a jokey tone, and a taste for pastiche,”
 stated Wilson (par.3). This collection includes stories of life in Bosnia, history of the twenty-first century wars, and stories
of the immigrant experience. Wilson explains, “
While Hemon draws heavily on his family experience in the book, and even refers to his family by name, as one might expect from a memoir
rather than a work of fiction…” (par. 4). He makes connections of his historical background with his  political opinion. Hemon‟s short story “Islands” is
deeply seeded with the historical consequences of Soviet regime on former Yugoslavia in the 1940s. The short story follows the
 recollection of visiting his Uncle Julius in Croatia, on the island of Mljet. The uncle tells stories about the period during which he was in the gulag under Stalin.
The narrator in “Islands” is a young boy who gains an understanding of himself while on the
family trip. The boy is very passive regarding his interactions with the adults he interacts with. He is young and immature. Near the beginning of the story whe
n the boy‟s hat gets swept away by the wind into the sea they boy‟s only reaction was to “begin crying and sobbed [himself] to sleep” (Hemon 4).
The child is presented as really juvenile. He is emotional and melodramatic regarding the loss of his hat. The boy also has other outburst of pessimistic attitude. When the boy finally meets his Uncle Julius, he
 Borowy 3
is disgusted by the uncle‟s decaying teeth
and he hides his face in his mother‟s skirt. The boy cries, “Can we please go back home!” (Hemon 5). The boy is
 scared of the unknown and unfamiliar. He is dependent on the security and safety of the adults surrounding him.
The crucial component to the narrators‟ understandings of their surroundings is deeply impacted
 by the adult mentors in their lives. The boy in
“Islands” is deeply affected by the storytelling of his
Uncle Julius. Uncle Julius is a brutally honest man who has lived a disturbing childhood in a confinement camp. This part of his life has profoundly impacted his turnout and this is what he attempts to show the narrator. Uncle Julius attempts to tell the gruesome fate of a memorable boy, Vanyka, he
met in the confinement camp when another adult points out, “Don‟t torture the boy with these stories. He won‟t be able to sleep ever again.” “No, let him hear, he should know,” states Uncle Julius (Hemon
10). Uncle Julius is very hard on the narrator. He is aware of the low maturity level of the boy and wants
him to understand the brutalities of the world. Uncle Julius does have regard for the boy‟s age and
whether his stories are appropriate for his listener.
Trudell explains, “Uncle Julius, who seems to want
to make an impression on his nephew, tells the story of Vanyka for his benefit, saying ominously that
„he should know‟ the story” (par. 3). Trudell further explains, “Since [Uncle Julius and the narrator] are nearly the same age, Uncle Julius implies, his nephew should learn something from Vanyka‟s
experience. The essence of this lesson seems to be that the narrator must lose his innocence and recognize
the horrible realities of the world” (par. 3).
In the midst of the story, Uncle Julius is furious
with the boy‟s frivolous outburst regardi
ng his refusal to drink water taken from a water tank which had a slug near it
. “You don‟t want to drink the water!
What would you do if you were so thirsty that you
were nearly crazy and having one thought only: water, water! and there‟s no water. How old are you?” (Hemon 9). Uncle Julius is taken aback by the narrator‟s childish reaction. He views the narrator as
 being absurd but that is only a reaction due to his early hardship in the labor camp. The Soviet system of forced labor camps, the Gulag, was active from the 1920s until the mid-1950s. These labor camps incarcerated over 18 million of people as a way of mainly demeaning and suppressing ethnic groups of the Soviet region under the dictatorship of Joseph Stalin (Bacon 423,425).

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