The Smell of Apples

The Smell of Apples Summary and Analysis of Pages 160-200


Mum praises Marnus’ essay but Ilse now seems oddly disinterested. She then asks Mum about Little-Neville, whom Mum says is most likely not going to die and may be transferred to Cape Town tomorrow. Mum will asks Dad if he can help pay for this.

Tonight the General is eating with the family for the last time and then going to spend the evening with the Brigadier that night and the next before leaving. Dad will be showing him slides of East Africa and Rhodesia.

Marnus’ thoughts turn to how wonderful the vacations are at Sedgefield. He loves fishing with Dad, and his biggest dream is to go tiger-fishing with him in Botswana.

At home Marnus is glad Frikkie is here to play with him, as the twins running away the other day annoyed him. Dad says the English always run away, like they did in this country. Dad also says the English are hypocrites for criticizing Hitler when they were the first to have concentration camps here in South Africa during the Boer Wars.

Frikkie and Marnus walk along the beach, and to Marnus’ shock he recognizes Chrisjan. It is an odd encounter because Chrisjan does not seem to recognize him and simply asks him for bottles. Marnus gets more and more irritated, but after they leave the old man, he thinks that he feels a little sorry for him—“I can’t believe how he’s changed since he left . . . He looks like someone who already has one leg in the grave” (165).

Frikkie asks if Marnus has asked the General how he got his scar. Marnus says no, and that he should call him Mr. Smith. He also says he learned the General is half Spaniard, half Indian. This causes Frikkie to cry out that he is Coloured, which Marnus does not agree with.


Marnus is like a cornered animal with no escape. Any moment he will be discovered. He hears someone coming near and tries to scream but cannot. He hears boots right by his head.


The family has dinner with the General and then moves into the lounge. Marnus gets the slide projector for Dad and everyone sits down comfortably. The grownups drink alcohol from tiny glasses.

Dad starts with photographs of Mombasa and Dar es Salaam, of his parents and himself as a child. He shows some of Mt. Kilimanjaro and Meru, slides of the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Crater, and animals crossing the plains. There are some slides of Uncle Samuel and Tannie Betta.

Marnus looks at the General, and thinks he kind of looks like Dad. He will be sad when the General is gone.

Dad now shows slides of Rhodesia. There are troops carrying rifles and mortars, and then four naked terrorists captured. Dad boasts about how “These Ters [sic] are all the same . . . Once you catch them, they turn into real cowards . . . they quickly call you Boss again” (171). The next slide is of the terrorists in a bloody heap. Dad smiles that this one is détente, and the image is of “a soldier holding up a black arm with pink meat hanging out where it was cut from the body” (172).

The General and Dad talk more about Chile and the war there. Suddenly Mum clears her throat and they all realize Frikkie was there the whole time and wasn’t meant to hear this stuff. They look at him, though, and he is sleeping soundly. Dad asks if Frikkie is asleep and he sleepily starts up, and everyone laughs, as it is clear he was truly knocked out.

Later that night Marnus wakes up, not sure where he is. He is in the lounge alone, where he and Frikkie often sleep during the winter in their sleeping bags. Frikkie isn’t there, though, and must have gone upstairs.

Marnus goes upstairs, uses the bathroom, but doesn’t flush as to be quiet. He sees that the General’s door is closed, and realizes the General didn’t leave for the night. He starts to get scared that maybe Frikkie went to tell the General he knows who he is. Marnus decides to quietly peek down in the room below.

After a while his eyes adjust. He can see Frikkie pressed up against the wall and the General sitting too close to him. Now the General puts Frikkie’s hand on his penis, and then appears to jerk Frikkie off. Marnus is terrified and know is this is a sin; he must go tell Dad.

Marnus gets up and silently goes to his parents’ room, but when he enters, he only sees his mother. He is surprised, and wonders where Dad is.

Back in his own room he looks down below again, and sees the General put a sort of lube on Frikkie’s rear end and rape him. Suddenly, Marnus realizes something—“the scar is gone from the General’s back” (177).

Marnus rolls the carpet back down and pulls his sheets up to his chin. He looks out the window. He feels like “someone who’s scared of everything. And scared of nothing” (177). When Frikkie comes upstairs, he pretends to be asleep.


Everyone makes it, and no one is killed or seriously wounded. The men are jubilant and relieved, and tend to their small wounds. Eventually most fall asleep, and few talk. The black section-leader comes over and asks Marnus why he kept running—did he not hear him calling? Marnus shrugs and turns over to sleep.


In the morning Marnus tries not to look at Frikkie as they get dressed. They go downstairs. Frikkie takes an apple and complains that it smells weird. When Marnus smells it, it is normal. He says it’s Frikkie’s hand, and smells it—it is sour. Frikkie washes his hands vigorously.

Marnus asks what he touched and Frikkie’s eyes fill with tears. They go outside and decide to hide their Choppers to Simonstown. Before leaving Ilse says she and Mum are going to visit Little-Neville, and Marnus has to be back in time if he wants to go.

The boys ride down to the beach,. Frikkie says he is tired of riding but does not want to swim either. In fact, he wants to go back to his own home. Marnus asks if there’s anything he wants to tell him, but Frikkie says no. Marnus realizes that since they took the oath to tell each other everything and Frikkie is still not saying anything, that he never will. They say goodbye to each other and plan to see each other next year in Standard Four.

Marnus rides down to the quay to the fishermen to see if they’ve caught anything. He says hello to Jan and then rides in to the base at the wharf. The guards know Dad, and Marnus rides past the submarine and boats. There are two fishermen catching angel fish. He asks if he is General Erasmus’s son, and when he replies yes, the men snicker. It feels like they continue to laugh and talk about him, and he does not like it so he decides to leave.


The men are awakened by the shouts of troops on the dam wall. Soon everyone knows what is happening and look up at the planes in the sky. Marnus screams “No!” and the planes begin dropping their deadly cargo of bombs right onto the dam wall.


Mum, Ilse, and Marnus pack for their vacation and then head to the hospital. They go to the Coloured section, which is odd and quiet. The Coloured matron asks for who they are here to see, but when Mum describes his wounds, she says “they have too many casualties to simply know who it is, she needs the patient’s name” (188). Mum does not know his last name, and Ilse exasperatedly says it is Malan.

The family goes to the room and says hello to Doreen. She informs them the worst is over but he needs to stay in the hospital for two months and he will have marks forever. Mum encourages her with the story of Job and his sufferings from the Bible.

Marnus stares at Little-Neville, who is on his stomach. He is completely naked and “between his thighs, across his bum and all over his back it looks like a big piece of raw liver” (189). Marnus cannot look anymore, and stares outside at the sun setting. He looks back. He knows Little-Neville is ten, but “you can’t really tell with the Coloureds. They all look the same” (190).

They say goodbye and Ilse and Doreen cry when they hug. In the car Ilse says she thinks it would be better if Neville dies. Mum and Marnus are shocked, but Ilse says, “just imagine what he’s going to feel like once he starts remembering what happened to him. Think of how he’s going to hate white people” (191). Mum mentions what the Bible teaches, and Ilse retorts that people can’t eat Bibles. Mum angrily shushes her.

When they get home, Dad tells Mum the General will be staying with the Brigadier again. Dad asks Marnus if he gets a hello kiss, but Marnus stares at the floor. Dad needs to shower before the evening goes on, but Marnus says he wants to take a bath this time. He lies and says his knees hurt in the shower.

Marnus thinks about the last few days and believes that “Everything changed since the General came to our house. Nothing is the same anymore” (193).

After Dad’s shower he gives the family the gifts the General left for them: earrings for Mum, a beautiful cloth with patterns of dancing women for Ilse, a pistol for Dad, and his elaborate epaulettes for Marnus. Marnus thinks he does not want anything from the General, but Dad oohs over the epaulettes and says the General must have been very impressed with Marnus to give him those. The family says Marnus ought to go put on his camouflage suit so Dad can fasten the epaulettes to them.

Reluctantly, Marnus puts the suit on and comes back downstairs. Dad motions for him to come close but Marnus freezes and will not obey. Dad’s eyes narrow and Marnus can tell he is mad. He commands Marnus to come closer. Marnus is scared but refuses, and Dad picks him up and carries him out into the bathroom and beats him. Marnus is crying and confused and screams at him to stop, but Dad commands him to listen when he speaks to him.

Finally Dad asks what has gotten into him and begins to cry himself. He wipes Marnus’ tears away and says he is sorry. He makes a funny face to make Marnus smile. They go downstairs. Ilse looks at Marnus strangely. Dad puts the epaulettes on.


The black section-leader asks if Marnus has feeling in his legs and tells him he will be fine. Marnus tries to tell him he knew all along but cannot speak.

He feels Dad’s face and arms around him and feels safe, but it is a different safety—“Death brings its own freedom, and it is for the living that the dead should mourn, for there is no escape from history” (198).


Marnus is in his room when Ilse comes in quietly. She says she is sorry she asked him to put on the camouflage suit, and then says he does not know what happened just now. Before she can finish, he yells at her to get out and she leaves as quietly as she came in.

Marnus lies on his bed and thinks about how it is good he and Frikkie don’t tell each other everything, and he is glad Frikkie will never tell about Dad.

That night Marnus dreams of himself and Frikkie riding horses along the beach. Zelda Kemp is in front of them, running away. They are almost upon her, and Marnus realizes it is not Frikkie but Little-Neville with hm.

In the morning Marnus and Dad pack up the car. Marnus is very much looking forward to fishing. Dad prays for a safe journey for the family, for Mister Smith, for the country, for the defense force. Marnus opens his eyes while Dad is praying and looks out over the bay, the most beautiful place in the whole world.


For most, if not all, readers, what happens with Dad and Frikkie comes as a complete shock. There are not any major signs of Dad’s predatory and pedophilic nature, though Behr foreshadows it a bit with Frikkie being very afraid of him, and Dad gently coaxing him to get into the water even when he did not want to. The shock readers experience makes a lot of sense, however, for Marnus is the narrator and cannot see or understand everything, and he both loves and fears his powerful father, which may lead to his inability to see and understand things that occur. Johan would have to keep this part of himself utterly private, for he unequivocally represents patriarchy, masculinity, heterosexuality, whiteness, nationalism, and authority. He cannot be a “poofter,” to use the boys’ word, because he is a married man in a position of power in a society that condemns homosexuality, and he certainly cannot prey on children.

Yet, Johan does prey on Frikkie, and Marnus ultimately allows it to happen. He initially thinks it is the General and seems aware of the wrongness of the act, but when he realizes it is Dad, he remains silent. The next day he pushes Frikkie to tell him what happened, and when his friend does not, he decides “it’s better that Frikkie didn’t tell me this morning . . . If he didn’t even want to tell me about Dad, then he’ll never tell anyone. And it’s right that way” (199). He then turns his attention to how excited he is for the family trip, and how beautiful his home is.

Marnus’s only struggle with what he saw is in the scene when Dad brings the General’s gifts for the family. Marnus displaces his anger with Dad onto the General, thinking, “Everything changed since the General came to our house. Nothing is the same anymore” (193), and, when presented with his gift, thinks, “I don’t want anything from the General and I hate Dad” (194). He refuses to let Dad put the epaulettes on the camouflage suit Dad gifted him the prior year, which leads Dad to sense his son’s rebellion and beat him. Marnus only holds out so long, however, and eventually accepts his father’s apology and puts the epaulettes on. He also rages at Ilse that he is glad he put them on. Kerry Bystrom explains that ultimately Marnus “buries his pain, shame and disgust to enthusiastically accept the masculine codes of violence he has witnessed and experienced . . . this acceptance seals his choice to keep his father’s violation of Frikkie a secret, and also prefigures his choice to become a military officer like his father—a position that requires him to continue shoring up a corrupt system by waging violence against the oppressed.”

What do we make of Marnus’ end? He has demonstrated a lack of moral courage as a military leader, and seems to die at the end. Behr writes, “I feel Dad’s face against my chest and my arms around his head, and I feel safe. But now it is a different safety. Death brings its own freedom, and it is for the living that the dead should mourn, for in life there is no escape from history” (198). Critic Mervyn McMurtry sees this as a positive thing for Marnus, claiming, “The adult Marnus can only escape his history in death” but other critics are not so sure. Rita Barnard says “The narrator’s final encounter with his father and his acceptance of the general’s epaulettes prove to be the decisive moment of interpellation: Marnus not only dies as a soldier, but imagines his death as a consoling embrace with his Dad—a repetition, in short, of that crucial scene,” suggesting nothing has changed, no redemption has occurred. Jay Rajiva feels similarly, discussing Marnus’ death in both its literal and symbolic meanings: “In the past, Johan’s embrace meant safety, while in the present, individual death is the metonym for apartheid: the safety of stasis, of bodies absent or about to be absent of life, the airlessness of a political and narrative space in which explicit challenge is never possible or even intelligible,” and the reader’s awareness of Marnus’ “future death deprives the total narrative of any possibility of movement: the future is as barren as the ethical awareness of the child Marnus’ story.”