Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 565
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 entire section contains 565 words.)
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- Critical Essays
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 sensual feelings and to ignore the burden of civilization behind him. As the sun comes up, he begins to appreciate an even closer identity with nature in its most primitive forms: stones, dirt, searing heat, silence. Bereft of language, he discovers a great joy in repeating meaningless statements to the flora and fauna around him. By the time, early in the novel, that he comes upon the farmhouse where most of the story takes place, he has duplicated a sort of climb up the evolutionary ladder. Having shed the trappings of a man, he has begun to learn what it is to be like “a creature [who] does not think and does not get involved, and is still completely there.”
The farm is owned and run by Vitória, an unmarried woman in her fifties who appears to be a tower of strength and self-reliance. Staying with her is her cousin Ermelinda, a dreamy, ethereal woman recently widowed, whose rather poetic manner of approaching life is a constant source of uneasiness for Vitória. The bulk of the novel consists in observing, through the eyes of the three principal characters, the slow process of change in Martim and the effect that he has on Vitória and Ermelinda. By the novel’s end, however, the reader cannot be sure that the two women have experienced any genuine enlightenment, although it is probable that the protagonist now at least realizes that he has missed gaining a firm grip on the meaning of existence. In the last paragraph of the book, Martim finally understands that “we are not so guilty after all; we are more stupid than guilty.” The quest for knowledge, he learns too late, is like “reaching for an apple in the dark—and trying not to drop it.”