Because Chrisjan liked fishing, Mum knew immediately that he must have stolen our stuff. Mum says that's exactly the way the Coloureds are. You can never ever trust them. After all the years of supplying them with a job and a decent income, they simply turn around and stab you in the back.
This is a very revealing story in terms of highlighting the way in which the Afrikaners looked upon the colored Africans, and the way in which they indoctrinated their children into having the same, illogical views. Marnus' mother believes that rather than feeling exploited, or that they are considered less in some way than the white people they work for, the coloreds she employs should feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude that she pays them for the work they do for her. It doesn't seem to occur to her that they might desire something different, or something more, for their lives, or that since they are working hard she jolly well ought to be paying them. It also shows the way in which his mother jumps to conclusions based on color and race. It simply would not occur to her that a passing white criminal might have stolen their fishing equipment. Her logic tells her that their black landscaper, Chrisjan, likes fishing. Since he likes fishing, and is a colored man, he must therefore be the thief. In passing this view onto her son as a fact rather than a suspicion, she is raising him to believe exactly the same things that she does and indoctrinating this negative view of colored people into him. It's also interesting to note that she assumes Chrisjan is the thief; she does not seem to think that a random stranger could have stolen from them. This shows that she is constantly on the look out for ways in which to prove that she is right in thinking that her employees are taking advantage of her.
It's the most dreadful of dreadful disgraces if a woman gets raped.
Marnus' parents do not want his sister Ilse to go into town alone at night because they are worried that she might get raped by some of the colored boys in town. This sentence in Marnus' narration illustrates the way in which women are seen as less than equal to men in this South African society. Being raped should not be seen as a disgrace on the woman as she had nothing to do with the fact that it happened; she would be a victim, not a woman of loose moral fiber, as his parents seem to be implying. The disgrace should fall solely on the rapist. There is no disgrace to being a victim, but the young ladies at this time seem to be taught that they have a part to play in any scenario in which they are raped.
Pop music can cause you to become a drug addict. Before Lucifer was thrown out of Heaven, he was the angel of music, and so it's only logical that the communists will use pop music to take over the Republic.
This is an illuminating quote on a number of levels. Firstly, it is amusing, as it shows that Marnus' mother is using tactics with no basis in logic to scare her child into conforming to her wishes. However, it also highlights the terrifying lack of logic that permeates all of the beliefs that Marnus' parents are bestowing on their children. The comment also shows that the greatest fear in South Africa at the time was communism and that there was a level of paranoia that, whilst not using obvious means, such as actual warfare, on the republic, the communists would use insidious techniques to take over, one of which was through the messages inherent in music about peace, love, and equality that was popular at the time. It appears that anything that went against the theory of apartheid and segregation was a tool of both communism and the devil. This association relieves Marnus' parents of having to explain why either apartheid or segregation is right; it is simply right because it is the opposite of communism.
His back is turned in our direction. Across it, stretching from one shoulder right down to the other hip, we can see the scar, curled almost like a snake.
Marnus is intrigued by his visitor from the first, but he becomes even more intrigued when he espies this huge, curving scar on the General's back. He compares it to a snake, which is appropriate given the fact that Marnus associates the General's visit with the end of his Edenic childhood. The General himself is not actually the problem, but as a child Marnus has an easier time blaming him than blaming his Dad and Mum for the rot at the heart of the family.
Then Ilse says she thinks the story is about much more than just whaling.
Herman Melville's Moby Dick features conspicuously in the novel, though its ultimate usage in somewhat ambiguous. On a basic level, it is a story of power, masculinity, determination, etc. Ahab is obsessed with his quest to kill the White Whale, telling himself (and others) that it is a noble, necessary endeavor even though to others it appears foolhardy and obsessive. When Ilse says she thinks the story is about more than whaling, she is referring to the divide between Queequeg and Ahab, who represent "different things." Ahab is identified with Dad and Queequeg with the General and Jan. As Rita Barnard writes, "Marnus . . . submits to Ahab, and forgets about his Queequeg figure and the whales."
I smell the apple in his hand. It smells sour.
The apple is a classic symbol of temptation and fall from grace, gaining that symbolism from the biblical story of Eve eating the apple from the Tree of Good and Evil at the snake's urging. Here the apple also functions as a symbol of a fall from grace and loss of innocence, for the abused Frikkie can no longer smell its natural, sweet smell but instead smells the stain of semen and violation on his hand. Marnus smells it too, but says nothing; he too has fallen, but in a different way.
I must have slept for a while, because when I come to, I remember that I've been dreaming. Only a vague memory remains. Me, with someone else, galloping down a dry river-bed on horseback. We're chasing something across the sand, but I don't know what. It feels as though we're laughing, and I can see his teeth against his dark skin. It seems strangely familiar, and I try to remember . . .
Marnus relates this dream at the beginning of his narrations as an adult, and as the novel progresses, it seems like the person he is riding with is the General. However, at the end of the novel it turns out that it was Little-Neville. What do we make of this? First of all, this scene takes place in a dream and could no doubt only take place in a dream. Marnus and Little-Neville were not friends and the racial hierarchy of South Africa would preclude them from being so. Barnard sees this as a powerful image in what it presents as a possibility that is, ultimately, foreclosed: "The surprising presence and companionship of Neville and the sound of a woman's singing in the recurrent dream is what is lost in the process of patriarchal specularization, that is, a trans-racial fraternity . . . and the silent voices of women."
"But then he's a Coloured!" Frikkie cries out. I thought he was as dark as anything.
Frikkie identifies the reality that the General is mixed-race, just like the Coloured population in South Africa, but Marnus immediately doubles down on the racial boundaries he is familiar with. By doing so, he exposes the arbitrariness of race and hierarchy. The General certainly is mixed-race, but since he is not "black," itself a highly ambiguous and suspect category, and he is on the "right" side of the political spectrum, and he is considered an ally.
"This is detente," Dad says. It's a soldier holding up a black arm with pink meat hanging out where it was cut from the body. I close my eyes, because I don't want to look at it.
This quote is important for several reasons. First, Marnus chooses not to look at this horrid image, which is an indication of how he often closes his eyes—literally and symbolically—to the terrible things his father and his country are doing. Second, this strikingly brutal image and Dad's callous way of describing it reinforce Dad's hypocrisy. He adheres to a martial sense of decorum, requiring very specific ways of behaving from his wife and children, but he also engages in grotesque, dehumanizing acts such as this. Above all he asserts his power, masculinity, and sense of rightness, but those things are belied by his actual behavior—his predation of a child, his oppressive treatment of his wife and children, and his brutal behavior against a people who are spuriously considered inferior. Cheryl Stobie quotes another scholar's term of "double agent," calling Dad this because he "acts as a libertine while mouthing the ascetic pieties of purity."
"Why did you keep on running, Lieutenant? Didn't you hear me calling?"
I look at him in the face and slowly shrug my shoulders. I turn over to sleep.
Marnus as a military leader is certainly less than inspiring. He acknowledges that race doesn't matter in the face of bullets, but he has no courage—moral or otherwise. Not only does the scene in which he inspects his flaccid, lackluster symbol of his masculinity indicate that he is a fraud, this scene with the black section-leader enforces it. Cheryl Stobie writes, "The tests of manhood that he faces as squadron leader reveal him to be unmanly, a coward, and the inferior of his black subordinate, whom in his panicked state he takes to be the enemy." Given Marnus' moral weakness as a child and his inability to confront any of the truth about himself, his family, and his country, it is no wonder he grows up to be this sort of adult.
The Smell of Apples Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Smell of Apples is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.