Summary of "Apple-picking Time”
The novel comes full circle in these final sections, as “Apple-picking Time” begins where the novel first picked up, in fall of 1666. Faith and Aphra are dead, and Elinor has been buried in the churchyard. Michael is visibly upset over the loss of his wife. Anna fulfills her promise to Elinor that she will be Michael’s friend, and she tries to help him adapt to being a widower. Michael eventually sends word that the plague is officially eradicated and that the villagers may leave. Anna tries to shave his beard one day, and the closeness of their bodies embarrasses Anna.
After a few weeks, Thomas Stanley tries to get Michael back on his feet, but Michael refuses to see him. Then Elizabeth Bradford shows up and tells Michael that he must come visit her mother, and Michael proclaims that he has no faith and does not believe in God. Anna leaves and goes to Anteros. She rides the horse for hours.
When Anna returns, Michael is outside. He tries to chastise her for riding his horse, but she snaps back at him for reprimanding her. He falls to the ground in self-pity, and Anna feels sorry and goes to him. The two embrace and then begin to kiss. The kiss is interrupted by the stable boy, and the two go inside and become intimate first in the kitchen and then in the bedroom.
Anna leaves Michael’s bed to go feed her sheep; Michael soon follows her to help with the chores. He spends the night with Anna, and Anna asks quietly if he is thinking of Elinor during intercourse. His answer surprises her, that he doesn’t think of Elinor because he never consummated his marriage with his wife. He explains that, after Elinor’s self-performed abortion, he realized that she would need to atone for her sins. He befriended her so that she would fall in love with him, but he never offered any love back. That way, she would have to suffer for taking a child’s life. Michael admits that he was tempted, but then he would convince himself that Elinor was unclean and filthy, not worthy of him.
Michael then becomes sardonic and exclaims that his cruelty towards Elinor as well as keeping the town confined was all a misguided attempt to please God, that his efforts were all in vain because he realizes now that there is no God.
Anna is repulsed by Michael’s confession, especially by how he talks about Elinor. She leaves him immediately and goes to the church. There she meets Elizabeth Bradford, who is helplessly wondering what to do about her sick mother. Anna mentions that she can help, as she has gained much experience tending to the sick. Elizabeth hides her gratitude by continuing to treat Anna like a servant, but Anna still goes with her.
Anna finds Mrs. Bradford on the brink of death and in an advanced stage of pregnancy, even though Elizabeth first mentioned that her mother had a tumor. Anna gets to work immediately and delivers the baby quickly. She entrusts the child to Elizabeth while she goes to find medicine to help the ailing Mrs. Bradford. When she returns, she finds Elizabeth trying to drown the baby in a bucket. Anna stops Elizabeth from murdering the child, and Elizabeth admits that the child is a illegitimate. Colonel Bradford wants it dead so that he will not have to take care of a child that is not his.
Thinking on her feet, Anna suggests that Elizabeth give her the child and enough money to leave the village forever. Elizabeth accepts the deal and sends Anna on her way. Anna brings the child to Mrs. Bradford, who gives Anna an emerald ring and necklace to give to the baby when the child is old enough.
Anna goes to her home and packs everything she owns. When she is ready to leave, Michael appears at her door. He is ashamed of himself and thanks Anna for being strong. Anna is still disgusted by him, but he nonetheless offers her Anteros to ride from the village: the Colonel will be vengeful if he finds out that the child is alive. Anna and the baby leave the village immediately, with only a quick wave back to Michael as they ride down the road.
Summary of “Epilogue: The Waves, Like Ridges of Plow’d Land”
Anna’s narration picks up years later in a distant land where she has a view of the ocean. She recounts how she and the child made their way through England and tried to settle down at an inn near a harbor. However, Colonel Bradford’s son was looking for her, claiming that she was a thief, so she set out for Continental Europe to get away from him.
She ends up on the North African Coast and seeks out a famous medical doctor named Ahmed Bey. He accepts her as one of his wives, though they never sleep together, and he teaches her everything he knows about medicine while she establishes herself as a successful midwife. She is happy in this new land where the sun is always shining, though she misses the rich greens of the woods. She reveals that she named the Bradfords' child Aisha. She also reveals that she had a child of her own when she reached the city. The child belongs to Michael, and she named this child Elinor.
Now that the novel has returned to its starting point, we again see one of Brooks's most significant symbols, apples. Biblically and symbolically, apples are depicted as the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Apples placed a wedge between Adam and Eve and made them see each other in nakedness. This symbolism of knowledge and sexuality applies to Michael and Anna on a literal level, as they both discuss the truth about Elinor and lie with each other.
However, the apple also functions on another symbolic level now that Anna has seen Michael’s true nature. After Michael reveals that his marriage to Elinor was built on misogyny, Anna realizes that Michael isn’t the man she once thought he was. He is cold and callous, and his kindness is the product of a warped sense of entitlement. Anna regrets ever having been jealous of Elinor. At the same time, she feels extreme sorrow that her friend and companion suffered from Michael’s hypocrisy.
As for Michael’s confession, it is shocking to hear that he only wedded Elinor because he believed she needed to suffer penance for performing an abortion. He didn’t take into account that Elinor, a young fourteen-year-old child, was seduced and essentially raped by an adult man. He didn’t care that Elinor performed the abortion because she was distraught and couldn’t bear tarnishing her family name any more than she already had.
Instead, Michael reacted in his own way to an ideology that construes women as disgusting, vile, fornicating creatures who are only on earth to tempt men into sinning. He saw Elinor’s childhood acts as typical womanly seduction and convinced himself that she had to pay for killing an innocent. This notion was foreshadowed during Michael’s hostile interaction with Jane. It also explains why he did not want Elinor to know about how he reacted to Jane’s sexual misconduct.
Anna is justifiably disgusted by Michael’s confession. Elinor was her friend, and Michael in essence also indicated that she, a woman, was a vile temptation. He only slept with her as an act of rebellion against the church. Michael didn’t truly care for her; instead, sleeping with Anna offered him a passing opportunity for sexual fulfillment.
As for Anna’s revelation of her true personality, the apple symbolism shows how much she has grown while still remaining true to herself. At the beginning of the novel, Anna mentions to George Viccars that she would not judge a prostitute without talking to her first to understand what drove her to the profession in the first place. This same idea comes around again when she does not judge Elinor for her early misdeeds. She does not even judge Mrs. Bradford, who became pregnant during an affair. Instead, Anna looks forward and tries to find good in people and in her situation: she has learned not to dwell on evil or sadness. She looks to see what must be done and tries to help people accordingly.
The Epilogue is a strange departure from the rest of the novel. However, Geraldine Brooks uses this concluding section to make a point about how Anna went on to become a well-received midwife in Africa, where she was not chastised for wanting to continue learning about medicine. This response to women with medical interests is very different from what Anna experienced in England; in her new home, nobody accuses Anna of witchcraft. Instead, she is a welcome addition to the community. Ahmed Bey discovers that she is an apt pupil, and he does not hesitate to teach her everything he knows.