The Smell of Apples

The Smell of Apples Summary and Analysis of Pages 82-120


Marnus and other South African soldiers listen to the radio, where they hear Dad’s voice come on and swear there are no South African soldiers in Angola. They all laugh.


It is a struggle to get up at four in the morning but the boys do it, and head to the sea. They say hello to Jan’s friends. Jan does not want his children to be fishermen, and says there is no life in the sea anymore anyway.

It is dark outside but there is a light on in the witchy Mrs. Streicher’s house. Marnus comments that there are orphans in the Burger Strandhuis again, and Frikkie shudders that he’d run away before go to an orphanage if his parents died.

There is no one on the beach yet, and the boys prepare their rods and baits. They see racehorses ridden by Coloured jockeys coming down the beach as the trainers yell instructions at them. The boys say hello.

They cast their lines but there are no bites yet. Marnus’ mind wanders to a time when he was so angry at Mum he wished she would die; she had yelled at him for bad behavior in front of everyone. But Dad was gone in the war in Rhodesia and that night Marnus climbed into bed with Mum and fell asleep.

Marnus wishes he would get a bite before Dad and the General come. The sun comes up over the bay and suddenly everything is magical, beautiful, and glowing. Frikkie is impatient with the lack of bites but Marnus know it takes time.

Suddenly something strong bites but starts swimming back out to sea. Marnus is terrified of losing it and desperately holds on. His arms begin to wear out and he makes no progress dragging it in. He does not want Frikkie to help because then it means they have to share the honor, but he simply has to because the creature is too strong. Frikkie barely gets a meter of line either, and Marnus is increasingly worried that his father and the General will see Frikkie holding the line.

Marnus takes it back and tries again, thinking the fish is getting tired. He sort of wants to break the line on purpose but knows he cannot. Dad and the General finally approach. Dad is full of instructions but does not offer to help himself. Marnus wants to cry; he is so exhausted and in pain and Dad seems to be getting angrier and angrier that Marnus is not reeling in the fish.

Tears do start dropping down his face but he marshals his strength and feels like he is winning. A wave breaks and everyone can see it is a large sand shark. Unfortunately, the shark escapes and swims out to sea. Dad is furious and disappointed, and turns away. Marnus is shaken with this, and embarrassment floods him.

The older men leave and Frikkie is quiet. Marnus wonders why Dad did not help. Finally Frikkie tells him he almost had the shark, and they both exclaim how heavy the thing was.

That night the boys talk about the General’s scar, and peer down through the floor at it in awe.


Marnus thinks of a lieutenant who died yesterday, and another death a year ago. He wonders how long it would be before someone told Dad he was dead.


Doreen is preparing to go to the station because she still has not heard from Little-Neville. In Mum’s car they listen to jazz, which they cannot do when Dad is around because he only likes classical and disapproves of jazz. Mum says it is their little secret, and says everyone has secrets.

Mum will sing at the house when she plays the piano, but not for other people; she will only accompany Ilse. Marnus gets annoyed when Ilse sings. Mum used to sing a lot when Dad was fighting in Rhodesia, and would weep while playing. She’d sung since she was a little girl and always worked hard because “she wasn’t born with a silver soon in her mouth” (104). Mum does not like speaking about when she was little except when Marnus is being ungrateful or lazy.

Marnus thinks about Tannie Karla, their mother’s younger sister who eventually became too liberal for Dad. Dad banned her from the house but Mum secretly took the children to visit her. They enjoyed these visits until one day when Mum and Tannie Karla began to argue. Tannie Karla thought it odd Mum never tried to see where Chrisjan went and Mum stated that “that’s what Coloureds are like nowadays. The days are long gone when an employer could rely on their loyalty and honesty” (106). Karla was annoyed, and said this was Chrisjan they were talking about. This conversation became frustrating and stalled, but then Tannie Karla said she would never want to get married because “she’d seen enough of how Dad oppresses Mum to make sure she’d stay away from marriage for life. She’d never allow a man to tread her into the ground like Dad does to Mum. She said, because she loves children so much, she might even have a child without getting married. But she’d steer clear of a husband and marriage” (107). At this Mum was stunned and said they needed to leave. In the car she protested to the children that she and Dad had a happy marriage and the children did not need to be indoctrinated by Tannie Karla.

They did not visit their aunt again, but one day a letter came from her. Mum told them she would not open it and to send it back. Marnus was about to comply when Ilse told him she wanted to see what it said, so they steamed it open. Inside, Tannie Karla implored Mum to be openminded, to think about how times and opinions changed, to consider what would happen if her children thought or acted differently than she did. Back in the present, Marnus says goodbye to the Delports. Gloria stands by Doreen’s car window and chats even though Mum clearly wants to leave. Both Mum and Marnus find Gloria rude.

Doreen is not friendly today because she is clearly worried about Little-Neville. Marnus is perturbed about this and watches as Doreen goes up to the station to see about Little-Neville. There is no news, and even though Mum tells her not to worry, Doreen says she knows something is wrong. Mum gives Doreen money for the train to Touwsrivier and tells her to phone when she finds out about her son. Little-Neville is the apple of Doreen’s eye and a good boy who wants to be a minister when he grows up.

Mum drives Marnus home. She looks at herself in the mirror and applies lipstick. Marnus tells her how pretty she is. They have lunch with Dad and the General on the veranda and discuss their holiday plans. The men also discuss Chile’s situation, and the General says it is good that Chile does not have so many blacks, they got rid of the worst Communists like Allende, and he thinks South Africa can learn from Chile.

In the afternoon the whole family and the General take a drive and Mum and Dad point out various sights. The General tells them about Chile and the Andes and the statue of Jesus. Ilse tries to speak in Spanish, and Marnus rolls his eyes.


Before light the men are surrounded; their position must have been known for a while. Marnus screams for everyone to run, knowing they have precious little time before the choppers arrive. He hears mortars dropping and men screaming, and knows it is every man for himself. He takes off running until the noise is distant.

Morning is breaking and his thoughts turn to the wounded. He also knows he must find water because his thirst is painful. His stomach cramps and he sit down against a tree. He wonders what Dad is doing at the moment, if he would angrily order troops to find his son. Now Marnus is alone, he thinks, and rues that no amount of training could have prevented this scenario.

Last night he was talking with his black section-leader, stopping short of asking him why he was here, “fighting against his own freedom” (119). The man told him men must make war. Marnus smiled and said “eventually you blacks could end up being the same as the bloody whites” to which the man asked, “Who else should we be like, Lieutenant?” (120), and walked away.


Marnus’ love for and idolization of his father are indisputable and, apparently, since we get to know older Marnus, long-lasting; however, in this section the reader has a glimpse of a fracture in their relationship, of a clarification of just how much this love and idolization are also tinged with fear and a desire to please. The scene with the shark on the line is thus a brutal one, for Dad refuses to help his son even though tears are streaming down his face and he is simply not physically able to pull the creature in himself. It is more important for Dad to save face via his son’s putative masculinity and strength in front of the General than to help that son out when he needs it. In such a masculine, patriarchal, and heteronormative society such as 1970s South Africa, Dad, who we learn by the end of the novel is a repressed homosexual or bisexual, clearly feels the need to demand the most strident adherence to those social norms from his son as well as himself.

In this section we also get to know Mum a bit better. Recall Tannie Karla’s assertion that she would never marry because “she’d seen enough of how Dad oppresses Mum to make sure she’d stay away from marriage for life. She’d never allow a man to tread her into the ground like Dad does to Mum” (107). Though it makes sense why Mum would be offended, there’s a great deal of truth to Karla’s claims. Mum no longer sings opera but instead is a homemaker. Yet, what is more subtle but also more telling is the fact that Mum needs to keep “little secrets,” as she calls them, from Dad. She doesn’t listen to jazz in front of him and says “we should keep it as our secret” (102). She also never told Dad that she was taking the children to visit Karla, clearly showing that she does not stick up for her convictions because she does not want to risk Dad’s disapproval or anger. It is perhaps not surprising, then, that she ends up sleeping with the General—he’s a double of sorts for Dad, but he also has no power over her and thus she can retain some of her own individuality.

Critic Rita Barnard identifies Leonore’s secrets as representative of secrets on a larger scale. She writes, “These secrets [in the novel], as it turns out, range from small things, like Leonore's furtive enjoyment of jazz, to grave affairs of state, like South Africa’s covert war in Angola, represented here as deceitful on every imaginable level, from the boldfaced denial of the presence of South African forces in the country, to the officers’ refusal to tell their troops about the enemy’s numerical superiority, to their failure to disclose the circumstances of individual soldiers’ deaths to their kin.”

Returning to Karla, it will be Ilse, not Leonore, who eventually takes up her mantle. Cheryl Stobie describes Karla’s letter to her sister thusly: “The letter is couched in the language of moderate, reasonable, humanist values and evokes an alternative of women’s community, as it implores Leonore to embrace her daughter Ilse for Karla.” Stobie also notes that Ilse goes abroad like Karla, and seems to “gain a wider perspective on the univocal message of her ideological background.” This allows her to become “her aunt’s standard-bearer of decent values, but within the society she critiques.” By this point in the novel she has already evinced some discomfort with aspects of her society, but Little-Neville’s death in the subsequent section will cement her antipathy.