Bret Anthony Johnston’s “Soldier of Fortune” both paint a picture of a troubled youth, torn between right and wrong, as well as between childhood and adult life. For Josh of “Soldier of Fortune,” a thrust into a darker world acts as a focal point, of which each main character pivots around it’s center. Johnston utilizes symbols, characters, and moments of realization in “Soldier of Fortune” to complete the picture of growing up. Josh describes several times in his story his fascination with a picture of Holly Henderson, his neighbor that he is desperately infatuated with. In the picture, Holly is holding hands with her young brother, Sam. Holly plays a very large role in Josh’s story, giving him drive and motive to do the things he does, such as end his relationship with his best friend, Matt, and repeatedly defy his parents wishes. Josh also decides to sneak into Holly’s room to look at the picture of Holly and Sam, taken at an orange grove. Josh becomes so obsessed with the picture he even contemplates taking it. Josh soon finds that Sam is Holly’s son, and he realizes that he, too, has been a child this whole time, believing the lie that the Henderson’s have told all along to protect Holly, only a young teenager. Told by Josh in the present, looking back about thirty years ago, Josh realizes that he wanted this picture to make sure that he can always hold onto that moment of his youth where Holly was the same girl he always knew, forever dancing on the edges of real and imaginary, as far away as in the picture or as close as the hands being held in it.
Johnston characterizes Josh differently throughout the story. Josh tells the reader of how he and Matt used to dress up as army men, wearing camouflage to school everyday and covering their walls in army decor. Josh then makes it clear that he does not see this as fun anymore, and already, at fourteen, Josh is growing out of that juvenile stage of his life. He pushes, and is being, pushed away by Matt. Josh becomes more and more engrossed by Holly, and enters into the world of sex, as well as complicated and complex illusions and lies. Josh is from then on described by himself, looking back as an adult. “Now I think of 1986 as the year my life pivoted away from what it had been, maybe the year when all our lives pivoted,” Josh says, “It was the year I surrendered the weapons of my youth- the morning after I fought Matt...”. Josh demonstrates a violent outburst when he attacks Matt for insulting Holly’s family. His irrational and impulsive judgment is clearly acted upon, yet in this way he is becoming more respectable as a character, in that he is leaving his childhood behind to pursue the real world for not only the sake of themselves, but for others, as well: Holly. This characterization, enlightenment, and symbolism work in unison to signify a growth in Josh’s life.