Last Updated on May 10, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1678
An analysis of “Apple sauce for Eve” should actually begin with the title. The accepted spelling of “applesauce” is as one word, so there must be a reason that Piercy chose to separate it into two. The subject and themes of the poem suggest that the word “apple” needs to stand alone for its significant allusion to the biblical story of Adam and Eve. The word “sauce” becomes significant for its indication that the Eve in this poem is doing something more with a piece of fruit than the Eve of religious lore was given credit for.
In the first line, “Those old daddies” refers to the writers of the first books of the Old Testament and of other religious doctrine that relates the story of humankind’s original sin, perpetrated by a woman. Note that the word “daddies” is chosen instead of “fathers,” perhaps because it connotes a slightly wry, less respectful attitude on the part of the speaker, an attitude she maintains throughout the poem. The daddies cursed not only Eve but “us in you,” meaning all women in general. In lines 2 and 3, the reason for Eve’s damnation is revealed: “curiosity,” or the “sin” of “wanting knowledge.”
These lines describe some of the ways in which Eve approaches her quest to learn, beginning with the last few words in line 3: “To try, to taste, / to take into the body, into the brain.” There is a correlation between the body and the mind, because both are necessary for examining new knowledge and not just in passive ways. Instead, Eve will “turn each thing, each sign, each factoid” in various directions to see how it changes. In other words, Eve’s approach is scientific; she gains her knowledge through objective experimentation.
The final lines of the first stanza use scientific imagery to show the seriousness and insatiable quality of Eve’s longing for knowledge. The notion that “white / fractures into colors” refers to the fact that white reflects nearly all the rays of sunlight and is actually made up of all the colors of the rainbow. As a result, the “image breaks / into crystal fragments that pierce the nerves / while the brain casts the chips into patterns.” These last two descriptions suggest that science may have a stinging, yet stimulating, effect on the physical being, but the informed mind can take the fragments and chips and crystals and shape them into definable patterns. This statement is a clear assertion of the human—and particularly the woman’s—will to use intellect over physicality to discover new truths.
These lines allude to the nursery rhymes “Little Jack Horner” and “Little Boy Blue.” Little Boy Blue is summoned to “come blow your horn” in order to herd his farm animals, but he neglects his duties for a nap under a haystack. In Piercy’s poem, it is “Each experiment” that “sticks a finger deep in the pie” and that “blows a horn in the ear / of belief.” It is science that “lets the nasty and difficult brats”—referring to the naughty boys in the nursery rhymes—loose on a complacent and motionless world. Here, though, the “brats” are “real questions,” and the world is likened to a “desiccated parlor of stasis.”
These lines are arguably some of the most poignant in the poem, and it is important to understand what they are saying. Eve’s decision to gain knowledge by experimenting on her own, as opposed to just absorbing what she has been told and accepting her role as a docile, submissive female, shakes up the male-dominated status quo. She knows that having the guts to speak up and ask “real questions” is shocking to those who adhere to tradition and established customs of behavior along gender lines. But, she does not care. The “desiccated” (dried out, lifeless) world, she decides, needs a swift kick.
Here, the speaker continues defending the need for testing, trying, and experimenting with current knowledge because the things “we all know to be true, constant” right now may be incomplete, if not altogether false. She uses an effective metaphor to make the point, as one can easily picture how quickly frost on a window melts when a jet of warm steam hits it. Current beliefs will also melt away when science provides new knowledge.
The final lines of the second stanza pose a rhetorical question regarding what may have happened if the quest for knowledge had been encouraged and celebrated in ancient times instead of being squelched, at least in the case of curious women. The reference to “dead languages” means those languages no longer in popular use, such as ancient Egyptian, Latin, or biblical Hebrew. The phrase “But what happens if I” suggests an attempt to try something different or to experiment with something to see what results. Following this phrase with “Whoops!” is whimsical, but it also implies a mishap or a less than desirable result. The suggestion that these words are translations of the “last words” of dead languages insinuates “too little, too late” on the part of old customs making way for new possibilities.
In line 20, the biblical first man is diminished to the status of a simple-minded, happy puppy. While Eve and Satan “shimmy up the tree” of knowledge to tempt fate and learn something, Adam stays on the ground, “wagging his tail” like a “good dog.”
These lines describe Eve and Satan as “lab partners” whose pursuit of the tree’s forbidden apple appears as a “dance of will and hunger.” The speaker points out that their desire is not sexual but a yearning that is “of the brain.” The contrast between Adam and Eve is obviously exaggerated in the first lines of the third stanza—he the doltish, acquiescent pet, and she the daring, unstoppable champion of learning. The speaker makes no apology for such labeling, perhaps because she feels the tables have been too long turned in the other direction.
The speaker continues her assault of men, accusing men of “always think[ing] women are wanting sex.” She abruptly throws in allusions to male genitals, “cock, snake,” to show her disgust with such shallow thinking and possibly to tout her readiness to use words long considered impolite and inappropriate for females. She chastises men for believing a woman can be satisfied with romance and passion “when it is the world she’s after.” Eve cannot accept that the tree of knowledge is off limits, so she willingly goes after that knowledge.
In these four lines, Piercy turns the poem toward a secular, or worldly, philosophical viewpoint. In his classic Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting the Reason, and Seeking Truth in the Sciences (1637), mathematician and philosopher René Descartes states, “I think; therefore, I am.” This famous line summed up his belief that he had proven his own existence through mathematical and scientific reasoning as opposed to through theological or traditional philosophical thought. The speaker in “Apple sauce for Eve” refers either to Descartes or to Eve herself as the “first conceived kid / of the ego,” which may seem derogatory but which reflects her concept of defining the self by use of the mind more than the heart or soul. Taking Descartes’s theory a few steps further, the speaker says, “I / kick the tree” (meaning the tree of knowledge). The speaker then asks the age-old philosophical question, “who am I,” followed by “why am I.” Note that the latter three words play a dual role. The question “Why am I?” can stand on its own to suggest an individual pondering the reason for his or her existence, but the question actually continues into line 29: “why am I, / going, going to die, die, die.” In essence, Eve wants to know the answer to the larger question, not of why she exists but of why she is going to be condemned for wanting knowledge.
The final stanza of this poem is more upbeat, hopeful, and celebratory than the previous three stanzas. The familiar phrase “necessity is the mother of invention” (meaning when a human need arises for something, somebody will create a solution for it) takes on new power when it is Eve who is “indeed the mother of invention.” She is also credited as “the first scientist,” a bestowal that supersedes even being the first woman. These descriptions herald Eve not for her meek obedience to a master or acceptance of her position in the Garden of Eden but for her higher, more logical aspirations.
The name “Eve” is said to be derivative of the Hebrew chavah, to breathe, or chayah, to live. The speaker states bluntly, “Your name means / life.” She then refers back to images from the first stanza in describing Eve’s determination to learn and to see the world from an intellectual, logical viewpoint. Experimentation requires “tasting” and “testing” and often “swimming against / the current” instead of going along with the flow of one’s own time and place. Knowledge, for Eve, is as necessary and nutritious as food and water—all the things one needs to stay alive.
The “We” in these lines could refer to all of humankind, male and female, but more likely it specifies women. Eve’s “bright hunger” and her “first experiment” gave birth to succeeding generations of women who followed in her path of defiance, determination, and unyielding quest for knowledge.
The metaphor that ends this poem is perhaps the most jubilant image in the entire poem. The speaker concedes that the forbidden apple may have contained the “worm” of “death,” a worm that Eve set loose on humankind, but the apple also contained seeds. Seeds connote new beginnings, new life, and growth. They are the beginnings of “freedom” for women and the eventual “flowering of choice,” a chance for women to make their own decisions and pursue whatever goals they desire. These lines ultimately champion the feminist voice, and they credit Eve with having paved the way for all her descendants.