The Apple Argument

  • Review
By – July 8, 2024

Whose fault was the fall from par­adise in the Gar­den of Eden? From the Tal­mud to mod­ern lit­er­a­ture, there has been end­less dis­cus­sion about the cre­ation of the world. In their new book, Jane Yolen and Ani­ta Barghi­giani do not pre­tend to answer this ques­tion. Instead, they present a mod­ern midrash” that elab­o­rates on the Book of Genesis.

When God fills the void with the beau­ti­ful blink­ing lights” of the uni­verse, dark­ness gives way to an array of life forms. Barghi­giani paints a back­ground of dark­ness, a map of celes­tial bod­ies in dif­fer­ent col­ors, and then a lush gar­den. There, gourds have faces, and bunch­es of grapes eye sus­pi­cious­ly the snake who will turn out to be a trou­ble­mak­er. These fruits are all com­pet­i­tive and self-cen­tered. When Yolen describes a pome­gran­ate and a fig fight­ing, her tone is appro­pri­ate­ly humor­ous. Before long, God no longer has the patience to lis­ten to the fruits’ arro­gant non­sense, so he cre­ates two beings to bring some order to the scene. They are a man and woman. What could go wrong?

God does not ask the man and woman to judge the fruits, but to become their care­tak­ers. He gives them instruc­tions, along with two main rules: work hard and refrain from eat­ing the fruit — not just the apple, as the bib­li­cal warn­ing says, but any fruit. Yolen allows read­ers to infer that the fruits’ worst qual­i­ties bring out humans’ own. Soon, the man and women dis­cov­er that, while har­vest­ing veg­eta­bles requires hard work, fruit drops into their hands with lit­tle effort. The man hugs the grapes against his bare chest, while the woman cra­dles the apple in her hands. Before they know it, they’ve been seduced by the snake’s tempt­ing sug­ges­tion that they take the easy way out: Lis­ten to the Fruits!”

This high­ly rec­om­mend­ed book is light­ly moral and deeply spir­i­tu­al. Yolen reveals that the care­tak­ers were clos­er to the Fruits than to God,” a sim­ple line that cap­tures human weak­ness. Choos­ing the path of least resis­tance, Yolen seems to say, can lead to much hard­er work than one could ever imag­ine. But veer­ing away from Gen­e­sis, she trans­forms the puni­tive out­come of the orig­i­nal sto­ry into some­thing more encour­ag­ing for chil­dren: the man and the woman will just have to dig in and work hard.

The author and illus­tra­tor con­clude that we are all dif­fer­ent, with good and bad qual­i­ties. We will inevitably argue with one anoth­er. But we can also enjoy the fruits of our cooperation.

Emi­ly Schnei­der writes about lit­er­a­ture, fem­i­nism, and cul­ture for TabletThe For­wardThe Horn Book, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions, and writes about chil­dren’s books on her blog. She has a Ph.D. in Romance Lan­guages and Literatures.

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