The Smell of Apples

The Smell of Apples Literary Elements



Setting and Context

Suburb of Cape Town in South Africa, summer of 1974, against a backdrop of impending war against neighboring nations and sanctions from countries across the world due to apartheid; roughly 10-15 years later during a war in Angola

Narrator and Point of View

Marnus Erasmus is the first-person narrator as an eleven-year-old boy and also as a twenty-six-year-old soldier

Tone and Mood

Tone (main narrative): whimsical, happy, straightforward, earnest, questioning, solemn

Mood: playful, trustful, nostalgic, touched, numb, worried

Tone (Marnus at war): frantic, gloomy, uncertain, foreboding

Mood: exhausted, foreboding, tense

Protagonist and Antagonist

Protagonist: Marnus Antagonist: Communists (in later narrative)

Major Conflict

How the General's visit elicits and exposes the fault lines in the Erasmus family


Marnus notices that the General no longer has a distinctive and long scar on his back which means it is not the General but his own father molesting his best friend.


1. When Little-Neville is several days late home and Doreen does not hear from him it foreshadows his beating and attack by white Afrikaaners
2. When Marnus realizes Frikkie "is in the mood for making sport today" (58), this foreshadows what happens to Zelda Kemp at the quay
3. Marnus says his mother sometimes says, "We all have our little secrets" (102), which is ironic but also foreshadows her own secret's revelation at the end of the novel


Marnus states that Frikke was afraid of his father but given that he is being molested this is an enormous understatement as he must feel not only afraid, but powerless and terrified.


1. Marnus mentions Robben Island prison and alludes to the prisoners who tried to blow up the parliament, thereby alluding to Nelson Mandela, who was imprisoned on Robben Island.
2. Bushmen: the indigenous people of South Africa
3. Dad mentions President Nixon and his potential impeachment, as well as the fact that the Americans are losing the Vietnam War
4. Ilse says Dad looks handsome like American film star Sean Connery
5. Mau Mau were the rebel group in Kenya who terrorized whites and complicit blacks in the aftermath of independence
6. Golda Meir: an Israeli stateswoman and fourth prime minister of Israel
7. Mum says Dad reminded her of Sir Lancelot, the famous knight in the stories of King Arthur and his Round Table


The imagery centers on the beautiful natural surroundings and how those are belied by the terrible things white people in South Africa have done, and continue to do, to the black population, as well as the hypocrisy of the characters.


Marnus' mother tells Marnus it is utterly wrong to judge by appearances yet she judges the entire black population on their appearance and does not see any paradox in this.


1. There is a parallel between the way in which the South African government is terrified of communists and conscripts its youth to fight in another country's war in order to prevent communism spreading, and the way in which the American government does the same (in Vietnam)
2. The General parallels Columbus' arrival in America with the Dutch arrival at the Cape

Metonymy and Synecdoche



1. Marnus says that whilst they are away and cannot feed the birds, the birds will have to make other arrangements, suggesting that the birds are able to make plans in advance to cover their grocery needs.
2. "But noon is the worst time of the day and the sun is hellish, beating every shadow into dust" (132-33)