(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

On the surface, the story in The Apple in the Dark could not be simpler. A man commits a crime, flees into the desolate interior of Brazil, arrives at a remote farm, is taken on as a farmhand, is reported to the authorities, and is arrested and returned to face the law. It is not the minimal action of the plot which intrigues the reader but rather the process of searching for some meaning in life, for some definition of the world and of one’s place in it, that provides the interest of the novel.

Primarily, it is Martim’s quest for self-awareness that forms the core of the story. The mythic nature of his quest is straightforwardly indicated by the titles of the three sections into which the book is divided: “How a Man Is Made,” “The Birth of the Hero,” and “The Apple in the Dark.” Indeed, the author, in a stroke of brilliance, has managed to combine parallels to at least two major, complementary views of man’s existence in the unfolding of Martim’s symbolic journey: the biblical story of the Garden of Eden and the Darwinian theory of evolution. From the beginning of the book, the reader is alerted to these two viewpoints. Martim awakes from sleep “on a night as dark as night can get,” immediately after fleeing from a crime which he will come to see as an act that frees him to start all over again in life. His flight takes him first through total darkness over unknown terrain, which permits him to focus exclusively on his...

(The entire section is 565 words.)