THE APPLE OF THE EYE is a novel concerned with sexuality and its impact on human relationships and religious values. Written by a young man, it is a novel filled with lyrical passages and obsessed with the emergence and demands of sex.
The novel is organized in three interrelated sections. The first section, devoted to Hannah Madoc, is by far the most successful. The later sections, more philosophical and autobiographical, filled with long, abstract conversations, are less impressive.
The central question posed by THE APPLE OF THE EYE is whether a satisfactory and happy life can be achieved within the boundaries of conventional relationships. The story of Hannah Madoc demonstrates that there are a variety of fulfilling lives. She is a woman who violates conventions and who has the courage to defend herself; at the same time, however, she pays a stiff penalty for her passion.
The story of Rosalia and Mike elaborates this idea. Although Dan is initially taken completely by Mike’s hedonism, Rosalia’s death proves that living for the body alone is dangerous, even fatal. Glenway Wescott stresses this point in his description of Rosalia’s decomposed body. Its ugliness has a tremendous moral impact on Dan. Through Dan’s evaluation of his own feelings, Wescott suggests that Mike’s hedonism and Mrs. Strane’s puritanism are each one-sided. Neither offers, by itself, a system of values which is ultimately workable.
THE APPLE OF THE EYE does not, finally, offer a system of its own to replace these alternatives. Nevertheless, like other American novels of the 1920’s, it does ask significant questions. In an era when old values were being seriously questioned, writers such as Wescott attempted to explore the implications of different systems of values. It was an effort to search for standards by which people could conduct themselves and with which Americans could lead fulfilling lives. This effort, in the case of THE APPLE OF THE EYE, is certainly worthwhile.