After dashing out of the Old Ladies’ Home, Marian pulls out from under a shrub an apple that she hid earlier. Then she runs to catch a bus, hops aboard, and takes “a big bite out of the apple.”
This long-awaited snack is a reward she gives herself for visiting the nursing home and enduring an upsetting visit with two acrimonious elderly ladies. Marian treats herself to a satisfying chomp out of an apple to release tension; she is relieved to have escaped from the sick, sad, and screaming Addie and her domineering, frightening roommate who tries to cling the girl as she leaves.
The fact that Marian takes a “big bite” underlines her own selfish nature. First, instead of offering the apple to the ladies, she greedily hides it for herself to eat later. Second, Marian visits the nursing home not out of compassion, but in a cold, Machiavellian scheme to earn points as a Campfire Girl. She does not care about the elderly women (“Any of them will do,” she tells the receiving nurse), just about herself and what she can get out the visit. In fact, Marian puts so little effort into seeing the ladies—she hides the apple, does not look at the potted flowers before giving them away, and says she will stay “but a minute”—that this visit is merely a perfunctory, empty task to be completed just to score brownie points.
The apple symbolizes forbidden knowledge. The nursing home and encounters with the women certainly open Marian’s eyes to the dismal nature of old age. Like Eve, Marian bites into the fruit of knowledge and is no longer innocent about the infirmities and institutionalized existence of the elderly. The color red also represents life and vitality, both of which are lacking in the Old Ladies’ Home. In fact, after an elderly woman pulls Marian into a room that she shares with a bedridden resident and quickly shuts the door, the girl feels
like being caught in a robbers’ cave, just before one was murdered.
Therefore, Marian’s eating of the red apple after she boards the bus symbolizes her escape from a world of decrepitude and death as well as her subsequent attempt to recapture life.