When Eudora Welty published The Golden Apples in 1949, critics did not know whether to treat it as an experimental novel or as a collection of interconnected short stories. But Welty included the separate pieces from The Golden Apples in her Collected Stories of Eudora Welty (1980), making it clear that she intended them as stories. This seven-piece cycle covers 40 years in the life of the small community in Morgana, Mississippi. Each story focuses on different central characters, who also appear on the periphery in other stories at different stages of their lives. In the first story, Katie Rainey, mother of the rebellious Virgie Rainey, introduces the reader to Morgana’s residents, especially the promiscuous and wandering King McLain. In the final story, “The Wanderers,” Katie’s funeral takes place and Virgie, who at the funeral recognizes a kinship with the now aged King McLain, finally gets her chance to escape Morgana, completing the cycle.
In depicting the residents of Morgana, Welty alludes to Greek, Roman, Celtic, and Germanic myths and legends, Welty’s thematically demonstrating the relatedness of all human communities, regardless of time and place. As all people, mythic or mundane, ancient or modern, do, the characters in The Golden Apples seek beauty, love, contentment, and passion, each in his or her own way. The title of the cycle is found in William Butler Yeats’s poem “The Song of the Wandering Aengus,” which describes the Celtic hero Aengus’s quest for eternal happiness in the form of a beautiful girl. And the Golden Apples also refer to the Greek legend in which the apples, as symbols of perfect beauty and passion, were awarded by Paris to Aphrodite, causing jealousy among the goddesses, who became partially responsible for beginning the Trojan War. We also find counterparts for many of Welty’s characters in myth. King McLain, who has many love affairs and children throughout Mississippi, and who first appears to us in “A Shower of Gold,” is a Zeus figure. Loch Morrison, the heroic boy who saves a drowning orphan in “Moon Lake,” is a youthful Perseus. Cassie Morrison, Loch’s older sister, gains deep understandings of the other characters that she is unable to express in “June Recital” and is, as her name indicates, a Cassandra figure.
In “June Recital” we also meet Virgie Rainey, the rebellious but talented young girl, and Mrs. Eckhart, the misunderstood artist and piano teacher. These characters, while seemingly opposite, have much in common as they learn to understand themselves in relation to the world, and both are linked to a portrait of Perseus slaying the Medusa that hangs above Mrs. Eckhart’s piano. As Virgie Rainey refl ects in “The Wanderers,” in order for there to be heroes, there also must be victims, and she and her piano teacher contain qualities of both figures.
Although all these characters have mythic counterparts, The Golden Apples is not merely an allegory. The characters are also real, 20th-century southerners, described in vivid detail, making the reader feel that even the most ordinary of us has a connection to myth.
Evans, Elizabeth. Eudora Welty. New York: Ungar, 1981. Vande Kieft, Ruth M. Eudora Welty. Boston: Twayne, 1987.