(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

The Golden Apples is a collection of seven short stories, interrelated and held together by their characters, a common setting in Morgana, Mississippi, and their common theme of the wanderer’s search for happiness. The stories, which were initially published separately, cover about forty years in the lives of the inhabitants of Morgana and outline the complete drama of their lives. The list of a dramatis personae on the first page of the book indicates that readers are to consider the work as a unified whole. The book is in some ways Eudora Welty’s attempt to create a regional world such as William Faulkner’s, but her focus is on comfortable members of the upper middle class and such everyday activities as piano recitals, camping trips for the young girls, gossip between neighbors, and funerals. This world is examined from all sides and points of view. Thus the first story, “Shower of Gold,” is narrated by the gossipy Mrs. Rainey, whose matter-of-factness contrasts with the mystery of what she reveals about King MacLain and his influence on the community. “June Recital” is described through the eyes of Loch Morrison, the young boy who sees everything wrong yet peculiarly right, and Cassie, his older sister, who sees correctly but does not share the insights or life force of her brother. “The Whole World Knows,” told through the eyes of Randall MacLain, is a somewhat blurred vision that reveals a certain truth in reenacting what has been observed. Whatever the point of view, Welty gets beneath the veneer of middle-class comfort to the hidden springs and mysteries of her characters.

Beyond the common setting in MacLain County, the stories are held together by William Butler Yeats’s poem, “The Song of the Wandering Aengus,” from which the title of the collection is taken. This poem breaks into Cassie’s mind as she tells her narrative, and in a very real way it provides the key to the meaning of the entire work. The poem is about a search for golden apples that represent beauty, poetry, and ultimate meaning. The search is marked by the pursuit of a vision in which a silver trout becomes a “glimmering girl” before the eyes of Aengus. Welty’s people are also wanderers in search of meaning to transform the commonness of their lives and make the name of the town, Morgana, as magical as the name from which it is derived, Morgan le Fay. Their search reveals the mysterious beauty beneath the surfaces of their lives, which Welty brings out as part of the process of transformation that is typical of most of her work.

The tone of the stories, on the other hand, is rather unlike Welty’s earlier fiction. There is not as much variety of mood here as in her early work but rather a pervasive feeling of solemnity and sadness. This is true even in such works as “Moon Lake,” in which a “silver trout,” this time a girl named Easter, is presumably drowned and brought back to shore but then resurrected by Loch Morrison. Here the trout does not become a “glimmering girl” but remains a choking twelve-year-old with mud and blood coming from her mouth. The mystery of life is here, but the beauty is somewhat harder to perceive. Welty accepts the symbols of Yeats but is unwilling to accept the direction in which the symbols point. Only the search is there, accompanied by the sadness of the knowledge that there will be no glimmering girl.

Despite a measure of solemnity and sadness, there is affirmation of human life and values in The Golden Apples. The journey from innocence to experience and meaning is painful, and often the wanderers’ knowledge is only of their predicament, not of its solution, but it is knowledge won from experience. This affirmation is tied to the region but becomes symbolic of the universality of the human condition, as is so often the case with southern writers. Welty’s manner of achieving this...

(The entire section is 1591 words.)