The Golden Apples

by Eudora Welty
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Characters

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Last Updated on August 6, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 614

This collection of short stories takes place in rural Mississippi, and the characters’ lives and behavior are loosely modeled on that of characters from a poem by William Butler Yeats, “The Song of Wandering Aengus,” whose last line is “The silver apples of the moon, the golden apples of the sun.” The stories cover about two generations of residents of the town of Morgana, Mississippi. The name “Morgana” is a sort of character itself, being the name given to the half-sister of King Arthur, who was a sorceress. She gives her name to the illusion of far away land seen by sailors while on boats, the fata morgana, and in this way, the name “Morgana” also seems to suggest a town with mystical qualities, which is in keeping with the setting of Yeats’ poem, about a man who sees a fairy woman in a vision and falls in love with her. In addition to themes from Celtic mythology, the stories borrow from Greek myths as well.

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One group of prominent characters in these stories is the MacLain family. They give their name to the setting, which is MacLain County, Mississippi, and this suggests the family has long time roots there and must have been important at some point in time. King MacLain is the family patriarch, known for his womanizing and wandering, and is featured in several stories in the collection, including “Shower of Gold,” “Sir Rabbit,” and “The Wanderers.” The name “King” is a hint that explains the parallels to figures from Greek mythology, most notably Zeus, king of the gods, known for his temper and his tendency to cheat on his jealous wife, Hera.

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King MacLain’s wife Snowdie MacLain winds up raising their twin sons mostly on her own, due to King’s tendency to go off for long periods of time apart from his family, a bit like the character of Wandering Aengus, who becomes “old from wandering” searching for his elusive fairy lover. The twins, Randall and Eugene MacLain, are similar to their father in that they both also engage in extramarital relationships with women. Eugene is one of the characters who does not remain in Morgana, Mississippi, but moves far away to live in San Francisco.

Katie Rainey is another important character who serves as a kind of narrator at the beginning of the collection, and in this way, her character feels central to much of the action in the other stories, too. She is a dairymaid who sells her products to the townspeople and has a reputation for gossip. She is married to a man named Fate, a name that suggests a mythic quality to their lives. Her presence as a person who provides the other characters with food, who also acts as a sort of hovering motherly type, gives her a sort of magical, earth goddess quality, again in keeping with the mythological underpinnings of these stories. Katie narrates the first story in the collection, “Shower of Gold,” and introduces most of the characters in the book.

Ironically, Katie’s daughter Virgie is herself the subject of a great deal of gossip due to her promiscuity and somewhat wild behavior. Virgie has dreams of travel but is bound to Morgana after her father dies and she has to take care of things for her mother. This somewhat echoes the on-again off again mythic relationship of earth goddess Demeter and her daughter Persephone, who are separated each year when Persephone must journey to the underworld to be with Hades, a sort of father figure who kidnaps her. This story parallels Virgie’s difficulty in trying to leave town, which she cannot do until both her parents die.

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 810

King MacLain

King MacLain, the wandering patriarch of Morgana, Mississippi. He periodically reappears in Morgana for sexual encounters with the town’s women. “Shower of Gold” is the story of his courtship of and marriage to Snowdie Hudson and the birth of their twin sons. “Sir Rabbit” tells of his sexual encounter with another Morgana woman. In “The Wanderers,” an aged King returns to Morgana to be cared for by his wife, but he still displays hints of his earlier rebelliousness.

Mrs. Snowdie Hudson MacLain

Mrs. Snowdie Hudson MacLain, the albino wife of King MacLain. Deserted by her husband and left alone to rear her twin sons, Randall and Eugene, Snowdie takes in boarders. The opening story, “Shower of Gold,” tells of the birth of Snowdie’s twin sons. In the last story, “The Wanderers,” Snowdie readies Katie Rainey’s body for burial. Her association with birth and death frames the rest of the stories of Morgana.

Randall MacLain

Randall MacLain, one of King and Snowdie MacLain’s twin sons. As children, the twins demonstrate the rebellious streak inherited from their father. “The Whole World Knows” tells the story of Ran’s troubled relationship with his wife, Jinny Love. Separated from Jinny Love, Ran has an affair with Maideen Sumrall that ends tragically in Maideen’s suicide. At the end of the book, Ran has been elected mayor because of the aura of glamour and revelation his past gives him.

Eugene MacLain

Eugene MacLain, Randall’s twin brother and one of the few characters who leave Morgana. Living in San Francisco, Eugene works for Bertsingers’ Jewelers and marries his former landlady, Emma Gaines, but their love is replaced by sorrow after the death of their daughter. In “Music from Spain,” the habitual Eugene does the unexpected: He slaps his wife, skips work, and spends the day roaming the streets of San Francisco with a Spanish guitarist. Later on, Eugene returns to Mississippi without his wife and dies quietly of tuberculosis.

Katie Rainey

Katie Rainey, the wife of Fate Rainey, who sells milk, butter, and ice cream in Morgana. Katie Rainey is the narrator of the first story, “Shower of Gold,” and her funeral is the collection’s final event. She is the gossip and storyteller of the town; her narrative introduces most of the characters and their relationships to one another.

Virgie Rainey

Virgie Rainey, the vital, rebellious daughter of Fate and Katie Rainey. She is the one gifted musician among the town’s children. Because Virgie is from a lower-class, Methodist family, she is not awarded the Presbyterian church’s music scholarship. “June Recital” tells the story of Virgie’s journey from talented, iconoclastic piano student to sexually mature piano player at the local movie theater. Virgie’s sexuality and rebellion make her the object of gossip in the small town. Tired of the limitations imposed by Morgana, she escapes to Memphis for a short time but returns home to help her mother after Fate Rainey dies. Milking her mother’s cows and typing for a lumber company replace her piano playing. After her mother’s funeral, Virgie prepares to go back out into the world. She is a wanderer whose vision encompasses the beauty, tragedy, and mysteries of life.

Miss Eckhart

Miss Eckhart, a German piano teacher who boards at the MacLain house. An outsider because of nationality, religion, and artistic sensibility, Miss Eckhart is tolerated but never accepted by the community. Miss Eckhart passes on to Virgie her love and knowledge of music; the two are linked by their roles as outsiders and wanderers. As a result of the war with Germany, fewer and fewer children in Morgana take lessons from her; eventually, she ends up impoverished on the County Farm. In “June Recital,” she tries to burn down the house where she taught music. Her attempted conflagration is an apt symbol of the passionate intensity and loneliness of the artist.

Loch Morrison

Loch Morrison, one of the narrators of “June Recital” and a Boy Scout. He is another of the visionary characters. In “Moon Lake,” as a lifeguard for a girls’ summer camp, Loch saves the life of Easter, an orphan, who has almost drowned. Eventually, Loch leaves Morgana for New York City.

Cassie Morrison

Cassie Morrison, Loch’s older sister and the other narrator of “June Recital.” She is awarded the music scholarship, though she is less talented than Virgie. Like Loch and Virgie, Cassie can see beyond the surface of life into its mystery of mingled beauty and horror; unlike Loch and Virgie, she remains rooted in the conventionality of the small southern town. Although she envies Loch and Virgie their ability to grow beyond Morgana’s confines, she chooses to stay in the town, give piano lessons, and tend the flowers that every spring blossom to spell out her dead mother’s name.

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