Themes and Meanings
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 554
“Shower of Gold” opens The Golden Apples (1949), a collection of stories that has much of the unity of a novel. It can be argued that the collection has a kind of lyrical form. Eudora Welty describes the pervading impulse of the collection when she describes her motive for writing as a lyrical impulse “to praise, to love, to call up, to prophesy.” Some of the meanings of “Shower of Gold” emerge from examining the allusions to myths.
The title alludes to the story of Zeus’s intercourse with Danae, mother of Perseus. According to Ovid, Perseus was “conceived in joy beneath a shower of gold.” Snowdie is similar to Danae, whose father did not want her to bear children, in that the people of Morgana see her as fated to remain single because she is an albino. King is like Zeus in his reputation for fornication and, later, for adultery. That their children are twins suggests an allusion to the union of Zeus with Leda, which produced two pairs of twins. By associating King with Zeus and Snowdie with at least two of Zeus’s mortal lovers, Welty sets up an opposition that gives meaning to the story and that is elaborated in the other stories of The Golden Apples.
To Mrs. Rainey, one of the mysteries of the McLain marriage is that Snowdie is quite happy to be abandoned with only her children. During King’s absence, she lives contentedly, “taking joy in her fresh untracked rooms and that dark, quiet, real quiet hall that runs through her house.” This happiness arises from the opposition between Snowdie and King. This opposition may be described with the terms “Apollonian” and “Dionysian” as Friedrich Nietzsche uses them in Die Geburt der Tragödie aus dem Geiste der Musik (1872; The Birth of Tragedy out of the Spirit of Music, 1909).
Snowdie is Apollonian, preferring a quiet, orderly, and stable life. She is willing and happy, on the whole, to live her life in the narrow, intensely rule-governed town of Morgana, where public opinion rigidly enforces social and sexual morality. King is Dionysian, a wanderer of the fields and of the world, lawless, promiscuous, and fascinating. His principle of being seems to require that he flout rules and upset categories. Snowdie’s happiness is a product of her marriage to this wild man. Without his unpredictable returns, the sexual pleasure he provides, and the children he fathers, Snowdie’s life would be unbearable, too orderly and fixed. Because of his wildness, she is virtually immune to the oppressive pity of Morgana. The McLain marriage is filled with creative and fulfilling tension, a source of renewal that prevents stagnation.
This pattern of necessary opposition is central to The Golden Apples. Characters in the other stories suffer because of imbalances between these opposing forces and, in various ways, seek out the kind of balance that will make their lives seem meaningful and complete. Though the opposition in this story is between a man and a woman, parallel oppositions in other stories take multiple forms, between friends of the same sex, within individual characters, and between Dionysian women and Apollonian men. “Shower of Gold” may be seen to introduce the volume by presenting an example of a balanced opposition against that the central conflicts of the following stories may be judged.