Peoples ideals have a certain innocence about them, just as people themselves do. The ideals held by the respective characters in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Passing, all vary in degrees of innocence.
The ideals of most men are innocent at the core, but have become jaded and hidden behind the cynicism and realization of maturity. The influences of society and ones surroundings contribute to the make-up of innocence and trigger changes within it.Innocence can be said to be a product of ones environment, and both texts, Mr.
Smith Goes to Washington and Passing, offer validation to this theory.
Jefferson Smith, the epitome of idealism and symbol of innocence, is the only one who seems unfazed by a change of scenery. Saunders on the other hand is the perfect example of someone whose ideals remain intact, but are not expressed due to her surroundings and social status. Saunders does however change, and in a way becomes more innocent, with the arrival of Smith.
Irene, in the novel Passing, also has a set of ideals which have an innocent quality about them, which are tainted only by Irenes desire to enforce them.
Irenes goal of equality between blacks and whites is one that most people can relate to, but when her personal feelings come into play, her ideals have to be somewhat compromised, at least in her mind. Irene maintains a certain loyalty to Claire based on their race, but in Irenes mind she despises Claire for not living up to her ideals. She does not like the fact that Claire has attained equal status with whites.The reasoning for Irenes hatred is that she despises the society in which they live because the only way Claire attained her status was through passing as white.
Irene of course has made a concious effort not to pass into a white lifestyle permanently even though she has the ability to. Passing as someone else is an action performed by many characters in both texts. Obviously Claire participates in the most obvious case of passing, but other characters do so in less obvious ways. Irene passes all the time, even though she looks down upon those who do.
Her rationale is that she is not really passing because she does not deny being black, but also realizes that because of her skin tone, she has certain advantages others, such as her husband, do not have. Saunders also passes, not with regard to her race but her sex. By disowning her first name, Saunders becomes a male so that she can break away from the innocence associated with her sex and perform her job. Even Smith has to perform some type of passing because he must be a senator, a position which at the beginning he does not naturally assume.
The act of passing seems to be a necessary one in all aspects of society, but it is not always a proactive choice by the passer.. Many times passing takes place in the mind of outsiders as well as the mind of the passer. Passing would be impossible if nobody was willing to accept the altered reality.
Innocence is usually associated to those who accept the altered reality, and it is traditionally thought that as one begins to know more, innocence is lost.Smith would then have lost innocence at the end of the movie, because whereas he previously believed Paine to be an honest man, he later learned and accepted the truth. But Smiths innocence also lies in his ideals and beliefs, and his ideals were unchanged throughoiut the film, therefore remaining innocent of outside influences. It can be thought of that there are two types of innocence, that of the passer and that of the observer.
Smiths observer innocence was changed, but that did not effect his actions and he therefore was still an innocent passer.
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