The Great Divorce

The Apple Tree Symbol Analysis

The Apple Tree Symbol Icon

In the Valley of the Shadow of Life, the Narrator sees a large, beautiful tree, from which golden apples hang. The image of the tree evokes the Biblical story of Adam of Eve, in which fruits symbolize humanity’s inherently sinful nature. (The golden fruits may also symbolize the Greek myth of the Judgment of Paris. In this myth, the young, handsome Paris was asked to offer a golden apple to the most beautiful of three goddesses. Paris’s decision to offer the golden apple to the goddess Aphrodite led to the long, bloody Trojan War.) In the novel, Ikey tries to carry some of the golden apples back to the grey town with him—an apt symbol for the way that human beings cause themselves great pain and misery for the sake of supposed material gain. The symbol of the tree and the apple becomes more complicated when an angel invites Ikey to stay in the Valley of the Shadow of Life to eat the apples (suggesting that the true evil lies in Ikey’s desire to sell the apples, not the physical pieces of fruit). Ultimately, the apple tree symbolizes humanity’s wickedness and their ability to find evil and corruption in the most innocent things.

The Apple Tree Quotes in The Great Divorce

The The Great Divorce quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Apple Tree. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Dreams, Fantasy, and Education Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the HarperOne edition of The Great Divorce published in 0.
Chapter 6 Quotes

I could hardly help admiring this unhappy creature when I saw him rise staggering to his feet actually holding the smallest of the apples in his hands. He was lame from his hurts, and the weight bent him double. Yet even so, inch by inch, still availing himself of every scrap of cover, he set out on his via dolorosa to the bus, carrying his torture.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), The Intelligent Man / Ikey
Related Symbols: The Apple Tree
Page Number: 49
Explanation and Analysis:

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“Fool,” he said, “put it down. You cannot take it back. There is not room for it in Hell. Stay here and learn to eat such apples. The very leaves and the blades of grass in the wood will delight to teach you.”
Whether the Ghost heard or not, I don't know. At any rate, after pausing for a few minutes, it braced itself anew for its agonies and continued with even greater caution till I lost sight of it.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), The Water-Giant (speaker), The Intelligent Man / Ikey
Related Symbols: The Apple Tree
Page Number: 49
Explanation and Analysis:

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The Apple Tree Symbol Timeline in The Great Divorce

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Apple Tree appears in The Great Divorce. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 6
Heaven, Hell, and the “Great Divorce” Theme Icon
Christianity and Common Sense Theme Icon
Free Will and Salvation Theme Icon
Love, Sacrifice, and Sin Theme Icon
...crouched near a hawthorn bush. The ghost is trying to move toward a big, beautiful tree, but because of the heaviness and stiffness of the grass, it’s very difficult to move... (full context)
Chapter 7
Heaven, Hell, and the “Great Divorce” Theme Icon
Christianity and Common Sense Theme Icon
Free Will and Salvation Theme Icon
...Narrator that there’s no point in staying by the river. The golden fruit of the tree looks delicious, but it’s just “propaganda,” since it can’t be eaten. The “Hard-Bitten ghost” claims... (full context)