"He [Jenny's Father] was a very loving man. He was always Kissin' and touchin' her and her sisters. (...) God is mysterious. He didn't turn Jenny into a bird that day [as she had requested]. Instead, he had the police say that Jenny didn't have to stay in that house no more. She went to live with her grandma.(...) Some nights, Jenny's sneaked out and come on over to my house, just 'cause she said she was scared. Scared of what? I don't know, but I think it was her grandma's dog. He was a mean dog."
—Forrest Gump, describing what he understood from Jenny's molester father.
A form of Dramatic Irony. A horrific event is understated because the narrator is very young, very naive or is intellectually disabled in some way, and doesn't really understand what took place. Alternatively, it may be obvious to the audience that something very bad has happened/is about to happen, but the narrator/character lacks the mental capacity to realize this and interprets it in a more "innocent" light.
See also Please Wake Up. A Tearful Smile may attempt to prevent a child's realizing another character's grief. See also Entendre Failure, especially in cases where someone is too innocent to know what's really being said behind a wall of euphemisms.
Anime and Manga
- From Fullmetal Alchemist, Maes Hughes's daughter at his funeral.
- Yu Yu Hakusho has the boy Yusuke died saving doing this at his funeral in the first episode.
- Kafuka Fura, though whether she's naive or delusional is up for debate.
- Shoujo Kakumei Utena: Utena witnessed Anthy's pain at the Ends of the World when she was a child. She couldn't possible have understood what she was seeing, and ended up forgetting all of it. She just wanted to grow up and be a cool prince just like the guy who showed her that whatever-it-was. (During this same sequence (but shown much earlier on in the series, before the real Wham! Episode) Touga and Saijonji found Utena and tried to save her. It made Saionji, who pretty much misunderstood the whole thing, realize that he wanted "something eternal"... which in turn led to his very misguided attempts at securing Anthy as his "eternal thing". Touga didn't get off much better, trying to emulate a suave prince despite a fundamental misunderstanding that his personality couldn't correct. It's complicated.)
- Humpty Dumpty from the Batman mini-series Arkham Asylum: Living Hell who dissected his abusive grandmother and sewed her back together with bootlace in an ill-thought attempt to "fix" her.
- In Watchmen, we see a drawing a young Rorschach made of his mother having sex with a client. It looks like a twisted monster, and very closely resembles both the shadow patterns throughout the book and Rorschach's own mask blots.
- In "A Child's Innocence" from the Black Crayons, young Annabelle Lennox witnesses events from Transformers: Dark of the Moon. When she ends up in Chicago when the Decepticons have taken over, Annabelle thinks the skeletons are Halloween decorations.
- Bubbles, a My Little Pony fanfic about how Derpy Hooves got her cutie mark.
- One of the characters in the film Scum is in borstal until he's old enough to go to an adult prison. During a therapy session he's told he can't leave because he killed some people, but he's too young to understand and keeps asking to go home.
- A whole lot of Forrest Gump. For example, he doesn't understand Jenny's situation with her father. ("He was a very loving man. He was always kissing and touching her and her sisters.") In general, Forrest misunderstands Jenny's entire character and sees a sweet Girl Next Door where there is actually a Broken Bird who Really Gets Around.
- Tideland is entirely about this trope. The conditions of approximately 8-year-old Jeliza Rose's upbringing are so warped (i.e. cooking up shots of heroin for her father so he can "go on vacation") that she has no understanding of concepts like death or abuse and blithely includes them in her games of pretend.
- At the end, Dickens finally succeeds in defeating the "monster shark" by causing a tremendous train crash. Jeliza-Rose sees the carnage and... cheers for him, not realizing that he's just caused the deaths of countless innocent people.
- A flashback in 28 Days shows the main character and her sister as children discovering that her mother has passed away. As they're being taken away by their aunt, one of the girls tells her, "Just slap her real hard, she'll wake up."
- Alexandria, the five-year-old protagonist of The Fall pretty clearly had to immigrate to the United States because of a pogrom of some sort against her family—but when Roy (the adult protagonist) tries to find out more, all she says is that "angry people" were responsible.
- The film has a lot of this. When Roy, is telling the Fractured Fairy Tale to Alexandria, she imagines things that are clearly not the way he intended them, for example he includes a Native American character that he simply calls the Indian. Alexandria imagines the character as someone who actually is from India. There's also a heavy subversion later: at one point Roy starts falling asleep in the middle of storytelling and Alexandria can't wake him back up. The audience thinks that it's because Roy has taken an overdose of morphine and is dead while Alexandria innocently thinks that he's just asleep, however the next day we discover that the "morphine" was just a placebo.
- Used in My Name Is Khan, in which the main character has Asperger's. He is mistaken for a terrorist and ends up in the equivalent of Guantanamo bay, where the guards change the temperature in his cell from extreme cold to extreme heat as a form of torture. His internal monologue: "This is a strange place. Sometimes it's too cold, sometimes it's too hot. Maybe they're having problems with the air conditioning."
- The opening of Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children is narrated by the young Marlene, who simplifies things quite a bit. For example, when describing Sephiroth, the Big Bad who tried to summon Meteor to strike the planet so he could become a god, she says "he hated the planet so much, he wanted to make it go away."
- Horrible example in World War Z, as befitting a Zombie Apocalypse. One interviewee was a little girl when her family was killed after the dead siege the church they and many others had looked for shelter. The ammo was running out and the dead had broken in and were chewing through the crush of people. The last she saw of her mother was as she was trying to strangle her for a Mercy Kill. She related this all in the voice of a little girl (with sound effects!) despite being a 20 something woman, because she had lived ferally for years and/or was brain-damaged by head trauma caused in that fight.
- Just as bad (if not worse) was the description from another woman who had been brought up North with her parents to hide from the zombies. They eventually formed a camp with a bunch of other people, who lived it up for about a year until they realized they were running out of food and firewood. It wasn't long before people started burning tires for warmth, and people started starving to death. Her parents desperately wanted to live, so eventually they started harvesting the only source of meat around...
- There is a Happy Land by Keith Waterhouse, in which the 10-year-old narrator finds the murdered body of a neighbour girl of the same age. She clearly had a very brutal and violent death, but he only notes her skirt being pulled up and the blood coming from her mouth. His friend "Uncle Mad," a mentally simple homeless man, is then blamed for the murder and the child doesn't seem to understand the implications of this either.
- Esperanza, the narrator and protagonist of The House On Mango Street, does this for the entire novel.
- In The Cat Mummy by Jacqueline Wilson, the child heroine tries to mummify her dead pet (as she was learning about Ancient Egypt in school.) She can't understand why her family is horrified that she wanted to wrap the body in bandages and keep it in her room.
- An example that spans a whole book is Take a Good Look, in which a blind girl disobeys her grandmother's instructions that she is not allowed out unattended and goes shopping alone - which leads to her getting caught up in an armed robbery. Because she is very young and can't see what is going on around her, she seems to have no idea what a dangerous situation she is in, even at the end when this is repeatedly explained to her by adults.
- The main narrator ("Chaucer the Pilgrim") of The Canterbury Tales is like this with his gushing descriptions of the immoral pilgrims.
- Christopher, the narrator of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a high-functioning autistic teenager, who relates the events going on around him in great detail without fully understanding their significance.
- In particular, one of his neighbors says something at one point that makes the reader realize that Christopher's mother, who he had thought was dead, actually just abandoned him, something Christopher himself doesn't learn for another few chapters. When he does find out, he relates this in the same detached, emotionless style as the rest of the book.
- At one point he nearly gets hit by the Underground train after going down to the tracks to pick up his pet rat. After narrowly escaping, he gets confused by everyone's frightened reactions, and never becomes aware of the danger he was in. He is actually more upset by the fact that strangers are trying to talk to him and doesn't seem to pay much attention to what they're actually saying (one woman is actually asking if he's okay,) and he informs them (not threatening, just informing) that he has a small saw blade on his Swiss army knife with which he could cut off their fingers. What he leaves out is that he's uncomfortable (at best) around strangers, so the other people take this as a threat and leave him alone, not because "he's fine on his own," but because "this kid is messed up."
- When his father starts getting physical with his much older neighbour i.e. lying his head inside/on top of her breasts, this flies completely over Christopher's head. Most readers will get the implication, but to him it's just what happened. He didn't see the romantic/sexual connotations of that particular choice.
- In The Lovely Bones the heroine, Susie, is raped and murdered at the age of 14. She spends most of the book watching her family from the afterlife. Because she was so young when she died, she does not see the obvious clues that her parents' marriage is breaking down and her mother is having an affair, and is in fact totally shocked when the mother then walks out on the family.
- Young Stephen from Spies by Michael Frayn does this at times.
- The start and end of Flowers for Algernon. The middle may count as well, as it's unclear how much his intelligence affected his naiveté.
- William Faulkner does this with the sections written from the perspective of Vardaman, a nine year old boy, in As I Lay Dying and by Benjy, an autistic man, in The Sound and the Fury. Five words: "My mother is a fish."
- At the beginning of The Secret Garden, the 10-year-old Mary Lennox lives through a cholera outbreak in India. She wakes to find herself alone but despite the unsettling signs all around does not realize the whole household has died.
- The novel The Dead Father's Club rewrites Hamlet as the story of a modern teenage boy who sees the ghost of his recently deceased father. The narrator seems to think it is all some kind of game, and reacts perfectly calmly when ordered by the ghost to kill his uncle.
- In To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout can pull off Shaming the Mob because she doesn't realize they formed a lynch mob and talks to them as if the meeting was perfectly ordinary.
- In Being There, the mentally challenged Chance the Gardener goes through a lot of this. He understands that the Old Man (master of the house) has died, but doesn't realize that this means that the house is being closed and that he no longer has anyone to take care of him. He also does not realize, once he's met Eve Rand, that she and the other powerful people he encounters from that point on do not know what he actually is; they think he's a Purity Sue of sorts, which has results ( among them, being put forward as a presidential candidate) that can be downright alarming to readers...well, not to every reader. In the movie version, this is taken further with the long sequence in which Chance walks out into the world outside the house for the first time - and into the poorer neighborhoods of Washington, D.C.
- In The Boy in The Striped Pyjamas, an eight year old named Bruno has a father who is very high up and important. His father works for the Fury (Fuhrer), and is forced to leave his old home in Berlin with the rest of the family. They move to a place named Out-With (Auschwitz) wherein he isn't really happy. He never understands why his mother starts taking so many medicinal sherries and long naps, and why the young but cruel Lt. Kotler seems to be around so much. (She's having an affair with him.) He retains his naiveté even after meeting and speaking regularly with someone from the other side of the fence, "Shmuel".
- The animals in Animal Farm relate the pigs' growing corruption, including selling Boxer to the glue factory and using the money to buy alcohol, while guilelessly accepting the pigs' paper-thin justifications of their actions.
- Many of the flashbacks in Oryx and Crake.
- The eight-year-old protagonist of The Orchard on Fire is the daughter of parents running a failing tea-shop. She is forced to sit and have tea with the only regular patron in order to keep him coming back, not realising that he is a paedophile who visits for the sole purpose of "grooming" her for sex.
- The protagonist of Milkweed is a young boy during the occupation of Poland by Nazis. At first, because he is orphaned and poor and uneducated, he has no idea who or what he is, even saluting and admiring the Nazis as they arrive. At first, the invasion doesn't do much to change his life one way or the other, except make it harder to steal.
- Chickamauga by Ambrose Bierce.
- Etgar Keret's short story "Siren" begins on Holocaust Memorial Day, with the teenage protagonist sitting through a lecture at school by an Auschwitz survivor. Afterwards, the boy has no idea why the janitor is crying like a baby, and at the explanation "I was also in the Sonderkommando," he simply wonders what sort of commando unit would take such a skinny fellow. (This is a plot point—a fellow student has just taken the entrance examination to become a naval commando, and to celebrate passing the test he steals the janitor's bike for a joyride. The protagonist reports his action out of outrage that one commando would steal from another.)
- A not so horrific example is used in the Warrior Cats novel Crookedstar's Promise. As a kit, Crookedstar sees two warriors in the midst of a forbidden relationship right before they have sex, but assumes that they are on a secret mission.
- In A Song of Ice and Fire, seven year-old Bran thinks that two people having sex are just wrestling.
- Half the fun of Henry James' What Maisie Knew is watching Maisie grow from Innocent Inaccurate to Wise Beyond Her Years.
- Played for Laughs in Jeeves and Wooster now and then. In one story, shortly after Jeeves expresses hatred for Bertie's new vase, he comes in late when Bertie rings for him and claims that he's been busy "dusting" it. It's heavily implied that he's actually been destroying it, but Bertie himself doesn't pick up on this.
My heart warmed to the fellow. If there's one person I like, it's the chap who is not too proud to admit it when he's in the wrong. No actual statement to that effect had passed his lips, of course, but we Woosters can read between the lines. I could see that he was learning to love the vase.
Live Action TV
- Jam had several sketches like this. A notable one used literal Dead Baby Comedy with a mentally disturbed woman asking a plumber to "repair" her dead child, who, she believes, was made of pipes like a household appliance.
- A psychic girl was used by CIA to track one terrorist in Seven Days understated about the enemy because she's still a kid.
- Jon Stewart, returning after 9/11, recalled that he was in school when Martin Luther King was shot, and "they shut the lights off, and we got to sit under our desks, and we thought that was really cool."
- The Kids in The Hall sketch about how "Daddy drank for the government."
- Inverted and Played for Laughs at the end of an early episode of Boy Meets World. Morgan ends up stranded on the kitchen counter while the rest of her family has an impromptu water fight in the backyard. She eventually dials 911, tells the operator that she's stuck and can't get down while her parents are fighting outside, then holds the phone toward the open door so the operator can hear all the hooting and hollering. When Feeny gets squirted after complaining that the water fight is drowning his flowers, Morgan adds, "They just shot the neighbor!"
- In Chrono Trigger, Marle's father relates the story of her mother's funeral, which she was too young to remember. She didn't understand what was going on, and thought that it was wonderful fun having all these people in the castle.
- In Phoenix Wright: Justice for All Regina Berry's circus upbringing has left her with a rather distorted, idyllic view of the world—she does not seem to grasp the true finality of her own father's death, and believes he's "become a star in the sky." Moe takes her to Max's trial specifically to give her a dose of reality.
- In an earlier case, it's apparent in the testimony of the seven-year-old Cody Hackins that he doesn't realize what he actually witnessed was murder (well, a killing at any rate). He just thought it was a superhero and villain fighting.
- In Deadly Premonition, the innocent Ingram twins discover the corpse of murder victim Anna crucified to a tree and believe her to be "a goddess of the forest".
- In Umineko no Naku Koro ni, Maria doesn't seem to grasp that Rosa is abusing her and instead believes that her mother's beatings are caused by the "bad witch" that sometimes possesses mommy.
- In Hatoful Boyfriend, Oko San is a throwback to nonsentient pigeons and doesn't seem to understand death. This comes up in the Bad Boys Love route, when the heroine and Yuuya are gone, and he asks when the survivors are going to go find them.
- This was the main shtick about Fnar in the webcomic Jack. His absolute innocence was the only thing that let him wander around Hell unharmed, but because he wandered too much around Hell unharmed, he tended to have a warped understatement about the dangerousness of the place and its inhabits, to put it mildly.
- The title character of Sabrina Online has tried to hide the fact that she works at a porn studio from her kid sister Tabitha, but at one point had to introduce Tabitha to her boss Zig Zag. As soon as Tabitha got internet access, she Googled Zig Zag, much to the horror of the family. Her response to seeing the pictures she found was "She sure likes to hug people with her clothes off."
- In Eerie Cuties, Nina's history assignment about an ancient vampire queen.
- A possible inversion in Achewood:
- The Season 1 Torchwood website, now defunct, featured Epistolary and Scrapbook Stories from Torchwood's past. One of them was about a scientist and his young daughter, who had contacted an alien disease and were now quarantined in a caravan until they died. It was told from the perspective of the daughter, who had no idea what was going on.
- Comedic example in The Simpsons when Ralph Wiggum views pornographic images: "Everybody's hugging!"
- Homer had a Flashback where he was older, but not old enough:
Homer: Mr. Zookeeper! Those monkeys are killing each other!
- Bart and Lisa observe their rather "excited" dog finding another dog...
Lisa: It looks like he's trying to jump over her, but can't quite make it.
- The infamous murder of Rachel Nickell, committed in front of her two-year-old son. The police were confused by the piece of paper stuck to her forehead, until they realized the little boy had put it there because it was the closest he could find to a Band-Aid...
- This pet store customer quote.
- Rats, and most other rodents, DO have unusually large testicles though.