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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 197

The Golden Apples is a short-story collection that takes place in Morgana, Mississippi. It revolves around several middle-class families, such as the Moodys, the MacLains, and the Starks. The story uses mythology and symbolism to convey pervasive sorrow and glimmers of hope within experience and perseverance. The reader follows several...

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The Golden Apples is a short-story collection that takes place in Morgana, Mississippi. It revolves around several middle-class families, such as the Moodys, the MacLains, and the Starks. The story uses mythology and symbolism to convey pervasive sorrow and glimmers of hope within experience and perseverance. The reader follows several characters called "wanderers" who attempt to find the golden apples. For instance, the first story is called "Shower of Gold" and follows Mrs. Rainey, a character prone to gossip.

What holds the stories together is a poem by William Butler Yeats called "The Song of Wandering Aengus," revealing that the golden apples represent beauty and true meaning. The characters attempt to find the apples to bring meaning to their lives and mark the town of Morgana as a magical place. By using this poem, the author conveys that the knowledge gained in pursuit of the apples is more meaningful than the apples themselves.

The story collection concludes with the short story "The Wanderers," where the characters come together and realize the underlying value of their lives through struggle and unity. Further, they realize that the apples will remain beautiful, so long as they stay on the tree.

Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1591

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 universality is, however, unique, for, invoking the mythic and the magical, she takes a real world, Mississippi, and makes it legendary Morgana.

The title of the book is the first hint of the pervasive use of myth and symbol. The poem from which the title is taken sets the mythical mood, and the character and events are consonant with it. The figure of King MacLain—who seems to grow out of the character of Don McInnis in Welty’s early story “Asphodel,” a story that also makes use of myth for its mood of gentle fantasy—first appears in “Shower of Gold” and thereafter reappears throughout most of the other stories, flitting in and out of the action. Morgana is in MacLain County, in fact, and thus even geographically the king’s presence is felt. King finally comes to rest in the last story, “The Wanderers,” but even there his vitality at the funeral of Mrs. Rainey is a source of amazement and admiration for Virgie Rainey. MacLain is not only king but also Zeus, and there are many conscious allusions to him in this role. As a sort of wandering pagan god, he lies in wait for unsuspecting girls in the woods and populates the town with his progeny—“Sir Rabbit” is a story of such a seduction. There is something beautiful as well as slyly humorous in his comings and goings, as can be seen in all the children who have inherited their golden hair from his golden touch upon their mothers. Mrs. Rainey states in “Shower of Gold” that King has run away to the gold fields, and whenever he returns, he brings some of it with him.

There are thus many people in the town related to him, and Randall and Eugene MacLain are not his only children. There are broad hints that Loch Morrison might be his child, as well as Easter, the resurrected orphan girl in “Moon Lake.” They both share his preoccupation with the vital forces of life and are wanderers, too. Because each of the seven stories has a character related to him, he is consequently intimately connected with the golden apples as a unifying symbol and with the wandering search that the quest for the golden apples entails. All of his fellow seekers and roamers are brought together in the final story, “The Wanderers,” in which each of these wanderers, like Aengus in Yeats’s poem, has his own “song.”

Perhaps the most attractive and memorable of the wanderers is Virgie Rainey, whose name connects her with King in “Shower of Gold.” Virgie, whose father’s name is Fate and who is the best musician in Morgana, is the protégé of Miss Eckhart, the outsider who is the music teacher for all Morgana and remains one of the most pathetic characters in the book. Miss Eckhart belongs to the large group of Welty grotesques, lonely and isolated characters who have been warped by their lack of love. In “June Recital,” Miss Eckhart escapes from a mental institution to try to burn down the house in which she taught her many lessons and gave the town music without getting anything in return.

Virgie is Miss Eckhart’s pupil but not her disciple. Music has set her free, and she moves toward freedom by leaving Miss Eckhart and becoming the pianist at the silent motion picture cinema; she makes her final escape after her mother’s death in “The Wanderers.” She is joined as a wanderer with Randall MacLain, inheritor of his father’s domain when he becomes mayor of Morgana; in “The Whole World Knows,” he creates tragedy by involving another in his quest. Maideen Sumrall commits suicide because he does not seem able to see beyond his own problems and realize that others, too, are seekers. Eugene MacLain discovers what it means to be a wanderer on a beach in California, where he goes in company with a Spanish musician he meets by chance. Loch Morrison is the blower of the golden horn, the Boy Scout in charge of reveille at Moon Lake. Easter is the orphan who wants to be a singer. All the wanderers have their song.

One constant in all of these songs is that they are sung in silence by solitary singers. Virgie accepts the gift of Beethoven from Miss Eckhart, but the gift does not bind her to the giver. That is the tragic and perhaps ennobling aspect of the wanderers. They give the gift of love, but love truly given separates and does not create a recognizable union. Those who truly know the value of the golden apples realize that the search is never over. What union there is remains a union in search of the unattainable. This is the community that is felt by some of the wanderers, notably Virgie. They are all victims of the search, and that is the reason for the pervasive sadness. However, in their common circumstance as victims, they are also heroes. Welty expresses this idea well and characteristically at the end of “The Wanderers” by referring to the myth of Medusa and Perseus. To cut off the Medusa’s head is heroic but it reveals a horror about life that is life’s separateness. Life is a condition in which both the Medusa and Perseus are ever present. The glory is in the struggle; the tragedy is in the lack of that struggle’s completion. The golden apples are more beautiful because they will always be on the tree.

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