Pop music is a symbol of the devil, which is why the Erasmus children are never allowed to play it in the house. According to Marnus' mother, before he became the devil, Lucifer was a saint of music, which is why pop music became symbolic of the devil himself. The Beatles and Cat Stevens are also instruments of Lucifer and symbolic of his message of evil. They are well known for being drug users, and because of this pop music also represents a descent into a life of drug addiction and falling outside of society. The fact that Marnus and Ilse sneak over to their friends' homes to listen to pop music would also be seen as proof that pop symbolizes evil as their desire to listen to it is Lucifer tempting them to defy their parents and go against what they know to be right.
One of Marnus' favorite memories of childhood is seeing the whales in False Bay from his bedroom window. The whales are a link to everything that was good and loving about growing up, and a sign that whatever else was happening around him that might be frightening or stressful, the whales, and their reliable calmness, are always there. There are many descriptions of their jumping and seeming to play in the novel and these are always at times when Marnus needed to be alone to think or to spend quiet time getting to know himself. Nothing bad ever happened in the presence of the view of the whales. Later on in the novel, when Marnus' mother writes to him whilst he is fighting in the war in Angola, she tells him that she went up to his room and was very happy to see the whales that he had always told her about. She had never seen them herself from his window before. Her mentioning this to him shows that she, too, associated the whales with his childhood and its seeming innocence.
Smell of Apples (Motif)
The smell of apples is a motif throughout the book. Marnus remembers the smell of the apples that had been picked from the orchard at his grandparents' home in Tanzania, before they were forced to flee from the rebel African forces. Each time he smells an apple, freshly picked or just bitten into, he is transported back to that place and time, and associates apples with some of the best times of his childhood. However, the motif also appears as a negative association with childhood too, namely, the brutal end of the naivete of childhood as he realizes what he and Frikke believe to be the smell of a rancid apple on his hands is the smell of the abuse that has been taking place at the hands of Marnus' father.
Smell of Apples (Symbol)
As well as being a motif that appears throughout the book as a memory of Marnus' happy childhood, the smell of apples is a symbol of the ending of Frikke's childhood resulting from the molestation by Marnus' father. Frikke takes an apple from the fruit bowl on the counter and takes a bite, but the smell of it is rancid and when he offers the apple out in his hand to Marnus, Marnus can smell it too, so the boys both take another apple. Marnus picks it out first and it smells normal but when Frikke takes it in his hand, it again smells rancid. Marnus tells him that it is not the fruit that smells rotten but that he has something foul smelling on his hands. Frikke tries to wash off the smell and succeeds although the smell is a symbol of something that he can never just wash away. The smell of apples symbolizes the unspoken molestation and the fact that Frikke is being raped by Marnus' father; there are also clear correlations with the loss of Adam and Eve's innocence when Eve takes a bite from the apple.
Jazz Music (Symbol)
Marnus' mother plays jazz music in her car when his father is not present. This is symbolic of two things—firstly, her fear of "disobeying" her husband, who will not allow anything but classical music in the house, and secondly, it is symbolic of a small, private rebellion within her and of her doing something for herself. She loves jazz music but for many reasons—primarily its association with black performers, and the fact that it represents something that his wife did before she met him—her husband is very much opposed to her listening to it. By having jazz music on in the car, she is creating a space where she is still able to do what she wants for herself. The music symbolizes her doing something for herself and also the emotional abuse to which her husband subjects her in dictating how she is allowed to enjoy herself in the home.
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.