Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 424

The aim of “The World of Apples” is to show that the artist must not only serve himself but also the world around him. Asa Bascomb is disconnected from the world in many ways. He lives virtually alone, having withdrawn from his own country to avoid his public image there. He selfishly broods on his desire for the Nobel Prize and relies more on his memories of human contact than on human contact itself. He keeps the admirers who visit him in Italy at a distance, choosing only a handful to spend any time with at all. The world, in fact, serves him, from his maid and the boy who carries his mail for him to the admirer who takes him on a tour and the official bodies that have given him awards for his poetry. The reason behind all this service is the one book he has written with which people can empathize, The World of Apples.

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The onslaught of indecent thoughts that Bascomb experiences signals the beginning of his return to an intimate connection with the world around him. These thoughts and the lust they arouse in him challenge his remoteness and abstract purity. The couple copulating in the woods, the man in the public toilet in Rome, and the singer at the concert draw him toward them until he cannot see himself apart from them. Every attempt at escape only brings him closer to the vitality of the physical, including running away to Rome, sleeping with his maid, and writing obscene poetry.

Eventually Bascomb must appeal to a source greater than himself to repair the damage to his sense of self. He must humble himself to a custom not his own, but that of the people among whom he lives. In seeking divine aid, he encounters images of healthy if perplexing human contact such as the man entertaining his family with a shotgun and the old man whose peace and happiness seem to have something to do with the living world in that he grows plants and collects stamps. By now the approach of the rainstorm has awakened Bascomb’s senses to his old delight in country things.

After nature has given a sign that it approves of his humble pilgrimage—illuminating his gift with sunlight—Bascomb returns to spiritual health, which his untroubled sleep signifies and which he chooses as his own when he bathes in the waterfall, thus “baptizing” himself—cleansing himself—as one who belongs not only to himself but to the human and natural world at large.

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