Study Guide

A Great and Terrible Beauty The Apple

By Libba Bray

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The Apple

It's not like this book is overflowing with apples or anything, but in the main apple-centric scene, that sweet little fruit packs a symbolic wallop that ripples through the rest of the book. Ready to take a bite out its meaning? Oh goodie. Let's go.

In art class one day, Miss Moore wants the girls to paint a still life with an apple in it, but Felicity gets cheeky and takes a big bite out of the apple. Naughty Felicity, right? Then Gemma lets her teacher know how thoroughly bored she is with still life exercises, and after a little back and forth, Miss Moore lets the girls do what they wish with their canvases. And do you know what Gemma chooses to paint? A "large, misshapen apple" (23.49) that takes up the whole canvas.

But Gemma isn't just fooling around by painting a weird looking apple—she really applies herself to her picture—and after struggling for a bit to really make it pop off the page, Miss Moore helps Gemma make the apple come alive by adding "…Chiaroscuro. It means the play of light and dark within a picture" (23.53). And when she does, the whole class gets interested in Gemma's painting.

In case you didn't immediately start thinking about Eve and the fruit of knowledge in Eden when apples came up, the book does readers a solid—pretty much the whole class starts talking about the biblical apple, and asking Gemma if her abstract apple painting is a commentary on it. It is, and Gemma even titles her piece "The Choice," prompting Miss Moore to comment that it is:

"The fruit of knowledge. Most interesting, indeed." (23.58)

When Gemma is pushed to explain what she meant by painting it, she explains that Eve chose to eat the apple—and then conversation drifts amongst the class to the fact that Eve's decision to take that bite cost her Paradise, and whether or not it was worth it. As far as Gemma goes, though, her rendering of the apple is a reminder of her preference for knowledge and her willingness to accept the lightness and darkness that comes with it, over the blindness and limitations that can settle in without it.

And as the girls in her class talk about Eve and the apple and women and choices, we are reminded of how much pressure is put on these girls not to question and not to think for themselves—which makes Felicity's repeated chomping on the apple all the more thrilling. As Pippa and other girls worry about whether they are even capable of deciding things for themselves, Felicity devours the fruit her teacher has selected as the basis for a classwork assignment—and as she does, it becomes abundantly clear that Felicity is a girl who thinks freely.

Are there other moments when apples appear in the book? How about other fruit (the fruit in the Bible wasn't necessarily an apple, per say)? We're thinking particularly about the berries in the realms, and wondering if you think they work similarly to apples as far as symbolism goes.

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