‘Children Are Bored On Sunday’ by Jean Stafford

Jean Stafford

Children Are Bored On Sunday by Jean Stafford, 1948

The magic trick:

The recurrence of the apple symbol

Emma and Alfred’s tale begins like a sad-sack, mopey bit of social estrangement and loneliness. Don’t worry, it does get better. I particularly like Stafford’s use of the apple motif.

Emma fears she is too simple to exist in this world of New York elite. She associates Eve’s apple with the apples from her great-uncle’s farm. She’s eaten apples from trees her whole life. It’s a nice, funny way for Stafford to paint Emma as a fish out of water. She follows up on the theme by describing Emma and Alfred’s first meeting at a party as the picture of innocence, “together underneath a blooming apple tree.” Finally, as the couple’s insecurities vanish in that haze of joy specific to new love, Stafford returns to the apple image, describing Emma and Alfred’s names in a heart carved into the bark of an apple tree.

The apple symbol tracks Emma’s progress from lonely to loved. And that’s quite a trick on Stafford’s part.

The selection:

Thus she continued secretly to believe (but never to confess) that the apple Eve had eaten tasted like those she had eaten when she was a child visiting on her Great-Uncle Graham’s farm, and that Newton’s observation was no news in spite of all the hue and cry. Half the apples she had eaten had fallen out of a tree, whose branches she had shaken for this very purpose, and the Apple Experience included both the descent of the fruit and the consumption of it, and Eve and Newton and Emma understood one another perfectly in this particular of reality.

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