A Visit of Charity

by Eudora Welty
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Why does Marian hide the apple before going inside the old ladies' home in "A Visit of Charity"?

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Because Marian's visit to the Home is a selfish act, she is not prepared to be generous, and her deliberate act of hiding the apple in the shrub is an indication thereof. Marian's visit is a chore for which she will earn points. She is not there out of love or charity. The following line illustrates the clinical purpose of her visit:

With her free hand she pushed her hair behind her ears, as she did when it was time to study Science.

In fact, the text makes it pertinently evident that she feels out of sorts in the Home. There are repeated references to her discomfort, and her visit alludes to someone being on a ship at sea with the accompanying distress and nausea associated with such a journey.

Even though she presents a potted plant as a gift, this is also just part of a ritual and will earn her an extra point. Her encounter with the two old women depicts an alienated association. Marian sees them like sheep, and the continuous references to animal imagery suggest that she does not deem them human. She feels cold and trapped and wants to get out of the room as soon as possible.

It was like being caught in a robbers’ cave, just before one was murdered.

Furthermore, it appears that Marian also views the two women as witches. The reference to claws, the speed at which she is drawn into the room, and the fact that she wonders how the old lady could have put the potted plant on top of the cupboard all hint at this perception. The story also alludes to Little Red Riding Hood, whose visit to her grandmother in the forest was just as unpleasant an experience because of the wolf. It is ironic, though, that Marian's purpose is not the same as that of the girl in the fairy tale, who visits her grandmother out of love and care.

The story does not mention whether Marian bought either the apple or the potted plant herself. What does become evident, however, is that, in all probability, the apple was hidden because it would be her reward for having performed a very unpleasant task, and she was not going to share any of it at all. The final line in the story suggests this possibility:

She jumped on and took a big bite out of the apple.

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Marian hid the apple, because she did not want to have to share it with the old women in the home.  There is also a religious meaning in the symbol of the apple. 

The apple, the representation of man's fall from grace in the Garden of Eden, when Eve bit the apple and then offered it to Adam, is used to allude to Marian's sin at not bringing anything into the home with her.  She is indifferent to the suffering that goes on in the home and goes because she needs to earn credit as a Campfire Girl, but her intentions are not pure.

She does not like the environment, she keeps herself at an emotional distance from the residents and deprives them, not only of the apple that she hides, but of her full attention.  She offers no comfort, no love to these women, she does not view them as people.

"The old woman who desperately needs love, is constantly referred to as a sheep or a little lamb, the implication of Marian's bite into the apple is clear."

"She has refused to feed the sheep—literally by refusing to give the apple to Addie and symbolically by refusing to give her love."    

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