Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit
The Roles of Symbols in Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit
Jeanette Winterson’s Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit explores the themes of homosexuality and relationships affected by difference. Throughout this novel, it is clear that there are symbols present that carry the overall meaning in this piece. Jeanette, the protagonist, discovers that she is a lesbian, which is complicated by the fact that she comes from a strict religious background. The symbol of the orange is regularly brought up in the novel, from the beginning all the way to the end. The readers can easily see what the orange represents: the dogma and the structure of which she should, ideally, lead her life. It is seen again and again that the symbol of an orange surfaces only when Jeanette reaches a difficult period in her life, showing that oranges represent the life she is supposed to lead, but ends up taking on another direction. Jeanette also refers to fairy tales in this novel, which also represent Jeanette’s journey from escaping her mother’s views. Ultimately, the symbols present in Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit effectively represent Jeanette’s exploration for a life of liberation rather than a life bounded by religion.
Oranges are first introduced to the novel when Jeanette’s mother, who holds Christian values and refuses to go against them, says to Jeanette that “[Oranges are] the only fruit” (Winterson 39). In the book, when Jeanette is in the hospital, it says that her mother always sent her a letter with a couple of oranges. Her mother only has one view on fruits: Oranges were the only ones worth eating. Similarly, her mother also only had one viewpoint on life: To live under God’s will. She had raised her daughter to become a missionary, and sees no other way to live life other than living the life God would want her to live. She sees people as either being good or bad; there is no in-between. Throughout the novel, the readers can see how her mother dedicates her life to whom she believed was her creator; she gave credit to him for the positive things that happened to her. She says in the novel, “Listen to what the Lord has done for me this week. [I] needed eggs, the Lord had sent them. [I] had a bout of colic, the Lord took it away. [I] always prayed two hours a day” (Winterson 32). In her eyes, there was only one way to live life, in service to God, like there was only one fruit to eat, oranges. As the mother of Jeanette, she attempts to push her belief system on her daughter because she wants her daughter to be “a missionary child, a servant of God” (Winterson 14). At the beginning of the novel the readers can see how religion dictates all of their life; it is part of their everyday thinking and everyday activities. Jeanette’s mother imposes a repressive system that restricts her daughter from doing anything unholy.
Oranges are treated the same way. Just like religion is used throughout this novel to navigate life and direct their journey, oranges are offered when Jeanette is in state of confusion and uncertainty. When Jeanette is in the hospital, and her mother is leaving her to go back home, Jeannette thinks, “What was she doing? I started to cry. My mother looked horrified and rooting in her handbag she gave me an orange. I peeled it to comfort myself” (Winterson 36). It seems that the orange is similar to religion for the family; it is like an anchor, something that stabilizes them and keeps them feeling safe. At that particular scene, the readers realize that Jeanette’s mother keeps oranges in her bag, just like how she always carried around a bible as well. Oranges, like the Bible, seems to be a source of comfort, a part of a life that provides feelings of safety, warmth, and familiarization.
When Jeanette first starts going to school, she begins to realize that other people are different and have various beliefs, contrary to her own. This makes her defensive of her religion, protecting it and defending it. In a particular scene, the children are told to write what they did in the summer and present it. Jeanette states, “It was all the same. Fishing, swimming, picnics, Walt Disney’s” (Winterson 49). When it is her turn to present, she tells her class about her church camp. Her retelling of what happens is laughed at by the class, and Jeanette tells her mother that she wishes to not go to school again, in which her mother responds, “You’ve got to. Here, have an orange” (Winterson 51). At this point in the novel, Jeanette is still living in world of “oranges,” in which she is living confined to a single lifestyle (and still eating only one fruit). However, she is also beginning to learn about other people and how there are other ways to live life.
It is from these instances that the readers can see how these oranges symbolize the life of which Jeannette’s mother wants her to live, under the controlling ideology that serves God. It represents her mother’s values, beliefs, and system in which must be followed. Oranges are claimed to be the only fruit by her strict mother who offers oranges to her daughter all the time, but does not help in any other way in terms of fulfilling Jeanette’s needs emotionally. As the novel progresses, however, this begins to change. Jeanette begins to discover a life outside of religion, and starts to fall in love with a girl named Melanie, whom she welcomes into her church. When the church finds out about this, they set up an intervention. While Jeanette is sitting in a room, she begins to talk to an imaginary “orange demon,” which is probably an orange. On page 138, it says, “Leaning on the coffee table was the orange demon. ‘Everyone has a demon as you so rightly observed,’ the [orange] began” (Winterson 138). The orange and Jeanette talk about demons and whether or not they are bad, in which the orange responds that demons are not evil, “They’re just different” (Winterson 138). At this point, Jeanette begins to accept that there are other things besides religion that exists in the world. When she was young, her ideals were of her mother’s ideals – now, she begins to form her own ideas and interprets the world in a different way than her mother does. The way Jeanette speaks to this orange demon makes it seem as if she does not fear the demon, and that perhaps not all demons are necessarily bad like her mother would like her to believe. When the church members come to make Jeanette repent for her sins (lesbianism), she agrees immediately. However, she refuses to leave this demon behind: It is still there with her throughout the chapter. This shows that she lied to the church members about repenting; she is braver since she chooses to live her own life rather than the life the church wants her to lead.
Furthermore, her independence is shown through a quote when her mother offers Jeanette oranges. Jeanette says, “The skin hung stubborn, and soon I lay panting, angry and defeated. What about grapes or bananas?” (Winterson 144). At this point, we can see Jeanette’s views drastically changing from a Godly worldview to a more secular, independent one.
Oranges are seen again and again as representing the strict, overbearing world Jeanette’s mother forces onto her daughter. In one instance, Melanie, the girl who shared a relationship with Jeanette, was sent away for having an improper relationship with Jeanette. Melanie has chosen the church over Jeanette, and agrees to move away and refuses a relationship with Jeanette. On page 155, when Jeanette sees Melanie again in the bus stop, Melanie offers Jeanette an orange, in which Jeanette responds that she does not. This not only shows that Jeanette is refusing an orange, but also everything that the orange stands for, which is spirituality and the rules in which her mother wants her to live by.
Oranges are not the only symbol that represents Jeanette’s journey from living a life that abides to her mother’s dogmatic views to living a life of her own. The chapters in this novel include interesting fairy tales that show how Jeanette develops from living in a world with only oranges to a world full of various fruits.
In the first chapter, Jeanette talks about her family and how her mother expects her to become a missionary, a child of God. Then she refers to a fairy tale, where a princess meets a hunchback who tells the princess that she “wished to die, but could not because of her many responsibilities” (Winterson 13). The hunchback asks the princess if she could take over her responsibilities, in which the princess responds by saying yes. At this point, the readers are still unaware of what this fairytale means or symbolizes. However, once one reads further, one can see how this refers to the religion-bounded life in which Jeanette and her mother leads. Her mother sees herself as having many responsibilities, like making songs for the festival or preaching the word of God. Like the princess, Jeanette’s mother has left her old life to dedicate herself to a life of God-serving responsibilities. Like the oranges, it symbolizes the one way to live.
In chapter 3, Jeanette hears a story from her pastor regarding perfection and how a man lived his life perfectly before his fall. Jeanette disagrees with her pastor’s idea of perfection, and imagines a myth in which a prince is searching for a perfect wife. He writes a book, with one chapter being about, ” the need to produce a world full of perfect beings. A perfect race. An exhortation to single-mindedness” (Winterson 80). He finds a woman that meets his standards of perfection, but she is smarter than he is, and refuses to marry him. He finds out that the woman “was indeed perfect, but she wasn’t flawless” (Winterson 83). The woman claims that there is no such thing as what the prince is looking for, which is absolute perfection. In response, the prince beheads her. This myth suggests that Jeanette does not agree with everything her pastor says. It foreshadows the fact that she cannot be “perfect” in the eyes of her mother or her church. At the end of this myth, the prince is offered oranges, which again represents the single-minded view of living.
Another myth comes into play when her mother and the church members find out Jeanette is a lesbian. Her world begins to change drastically, as she finds that she still loves God and the Church, but loves Melanie as well. The church members claim this cannot be so, because if Jeanette loves Melanie, then it means she does not love God. In this chapter, Jeanette imagines a man named Sir Perceval and how he used to live comfortably in Camelot. Similarly, Jeanette lived comfortably in her mother’s home, surrounded by religious people and a church that was like an anchor to her. However, in the myth, Perceval says he cannot stay in Camelot because then he will not find what he is looking for. Likewise, Jeanette cannot stay living under the rules of the church if she wants to find her identity and her true self. Again, this myth represents the journey that Jeanette is taking, and how her life is changing just like the character in the myth. It seems that the myths and Jeanette’s life are parallel and very similar.
The final myth in the last chapter of this book sums up Jeanette’s journey to finding herself. Jeanette talks about Winnet, who is a character similar to herself, and how she was adopted and becomes a city dweller, leaving her family behind. Winnet has a relationship with a male, which angers a male sorcerer (which is like Jeanette’s mother) and then kicks Winnet out. This is different from the real world, where women are supposed to be with men. Winnet is supposed to be with a woman, instead of a man. It is clear that Winterson is experimenting with gender roles in this parallel universe, and ultimately challenging gender norms to the readers. Another myth is told later in the chapter, a continuation of the old one. Perceval becomes tired of his journey, and misses his home. Just like Jeanette, she misses her home as well. In the myth, Perceval says, “[I] have seen the vision of perfect heroism and, for a fleeting moment, the vision of perfect peace” (Winterson 212). At this point, one can see that the character has found peace through his journey. Jeanette, similarly, has found some sort of peace after finding out her identity and who she was, from being away from home. In the myth, the prince also says he “had gone [away] for his own sake, nothing more. He had thought of that day of returning” (Winterson 221). His life parallels Jeanette’s, in a sense that Jeanette went on a journey for her own sake, to discover who she really is without the strict boundaries set by her mother.
When Jeanette returns home from living away for a while, her mother treats her as she never kicked her daughter out of the house. Her mother talks to her normally, and it seems that things have changed since Jeanette left. At the end of the novel, Jeanette’s mother says something that confirms her change of beliefs. She says, “After all, oranges are not the only fruit” (Winterson 219). Towards the end of the novel, these symbols lead up to the final conclusion of Jeanette and her thoughts towards belief in God. She says, “But where was God now, with heaven full of astronauts, and the Lord overthrown? I miss God who was my friend. I still don’t think of God as my betrayer. The servants of God, yes.. I don’t even know if God exists..” (Winterson 216). At this point, one can see the journey has taken her to a point where God is missed, her old life is missed, but she still refuses to let religion control what she believes. She accepts what is, including her sexual identity. Her mother, at the beginning, only sees things black and white, and her finding out her daughter was a lesbian was entirely bad, but Jeanette learns to accept this. At the end she also states, “I can’t settle. I want someone who is fierce and will love me until death and know that love is as strong as death, and will be on my side for ever and ever. I want someone who will destroy and be destroyed by me. I will give away all I have, but not for a man, because they want to be the destroyer but never be destroyed” (Winterson 217). One can still see how her views are set: She does not want a man to marry. Throughout the novel she was learning to accept this fact, and at the end she has learned that she is set on her belief and now has her own belief system, one separate from her mother.
The oranges and myths in Oranges are Not the Only Fruit clearly represent the journey which Jeanette takes from being a strictly religious individual to being one who follows her own rules in life, while still keeping the love of God alive. Both of these symbolize the changes in thoughts that occur through Jeanette’s mind overtime. The oranges show the dogmatic view her mother holds and how Jeanette eventually learns to refuse this orange, literally (as when she rejected it from Melanie) and figuratively. These oranges help her realize that the views of her mother is not the only view that is correct; rather, there are other views out there that are good. The myths that are told in this novel also show the journey in which Jeanette learns to reject these oranges. Winterson brilliantly and effectively questions the perspective other people hold towards homosexuality in this novel by using both the orange and the myths to symbolize the journey of self discovery in which Jeanette learns to achieve a belief system separate from her mother’s.
Winterson, Jeanette. Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit. New York, NY: Atlantic Monthly, 1987. Print.
Religious Elements of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit
Religious symbols, narratives, and language play prominent roles in both A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit. In the Portrait, religious symbols and language permeate the consciousness of Stephen, such that his spiritual and physical experiences are inextricably entwined. While Stephen attempts to deny and distance himself away from the dominant discourses provided by the state and religion, his artistic sensibility is ultimately entrenched in the language of religion. In Oranges, through the retelling of biblical myths and fairytale stories, Jeanette liberates herself from the hold of narratives that entrap her in a system of patriarchy, fundamentalist religion and heterosexuality. In doing so, Jeanette opens the text to a fluidity of interpretations, which results in a destabilization in the narratives of fairytales and biblical texts. As such, she has succeeded as an artist where Stephen has yet to succeed, in her use of narratives and language to subvert dominant discourses such as religion.
In the Portrait, the religious and sacred associations are “reshuffled” (Akoi 301) with the secular and physical associations. Spirituality and physicality becomes inextricably intertwined, as seen in the use of sacred language to describe his tryst with the prostitute. His sexual awakening is also an awakening of his spiritual desires; it is a ‘holy encounter’ (106), that allows him to transcend profanity, ‘before which everything else was idle and alien’ (105). He venerates the prostitute with a religious intensity, whose ‘frank uplifted eyes’, moves him to ‘Tears of joy and relief’, he ‘[surrenders] himself body and mind’ ‘conscious of nothing in the world’ (107-108). Conversely, virgin Mary is described sensually, ‘the glories of Mary held his soul captive… his soul, reentering her dwelling shyly… the savior itself of a lewd kiss’ (112). This intertwining of the physical and spiritual culminates in his vocation as an artist-priest, ‘a priest of eternal imagination, transmuting the daily bread of experience into the radiant body of everliving life’ (240). Here, we can see that Stephen’s conception of aesthetics remains construed in the language of priesthood and religion. In doing so, he confers a divine and sacred legitimacy to the artist, who holds the power to materialize and capture intangible experiences of desire and excitement.
In contrast, the ‘chill and order’ of Catholic priesthood ‘repelled him’ (174), an anathema to Stephen’s desire and longing for excitement, to ‘learn his own wisdom apart from others or to learn the wisdom of others himself wandering the snares of the world’ (175). He accepts his ‘destiny… to be elusive of social or religious order’, seeking to escape the ‘hold… of order and obedience’ that ‘threatened to end for ever… his freedom’ (175). Yet, in spite of the high-minded artistic ambitions of Stephen, his religious influences remain deeply-rooted, as warned by his pastor, ‘once a priest, always a priest’ (173) and by Cranly, that his ‘mind is supersaturated with the religion in which [he] says [he] disbelieves’ (261). Nevertheless, he proudly takes on ‘the name of the fabulous artificer’ (183), ‘a living thing, new and soaring and beautiful, impalpable, imperishable’ (184). His cry joyfully ascribes sacredness to the physical reality, ‘Heavenly God!’, ‘in an outburst of profane joy’ (186). His romanticisation of nature and beauty is driven by the intensity of Catholic resurrection and transcendence of the soul. ‘By merging the Catholic and Romantic versions of the soul, Stephen essentially creates his own soul, operating as both the Catholic god who creates the soul and the Romantic poet who finds his soul in the life of experience’ (Howell 61).
Stephen becomes a creator just like Daedalus, who crafts wings for himself and his son Icarus to escape their imprisonment. This motif of flying pervades his consciousness, and Stephen desires to ‘fly by those nets’ ‘of nationality, language, religion’ (220). Here, Joyce provides us a double meaning of ‘fly by’, as Stephen’s ambitions to fly past, over and beyond the social constrictions, overlook the second meaning of ‘fly by’, with the meaning of him inevitably using the material of his ‘nationality, language, religion’. Also, while Stephen embraces the namesake of the great artificer, he notably does not deny the spiritual associations of his first name, St Stephen, the first martyr who was stoned to death for the defense of his faith. In addition, the myth of Daedalus also warns against the hubris of Icarus, who falls to his death upon flying too close to the sun. Ultimately, while Stephen is hopeful in his calling as an artist, his high ambitions carry the consequence of alienation and suffering for his art, in parallel with Icarus and St Stephen, thus leaving us critical of his ability to ‘fly by’ the nets of ‘nationality, language, religion’, without borrowing and relying on them to ‘fly’.
In Oranges, religious and fairytale narratives are appropriated and rewritten, to deliberately disrupt the binary heterosexual and patriarchal reading that is imposed by the traditional and fixed reading of these narratives. Furthermore, the autobiographical intertextuality of Winterson’s Oranges allows an integration of the fantasy in Oranges as a story about Jeanette, with the reality of the Winterson’s own life. It is through her process of integrating stories and reality, that Winterson collapses the ‘walls’ of narratives to model a more fluid narrative that accommodates her own personal narrative, ultimately allowing her to ‘fly by’ the narratives which traditionally oppress her identity.
Winterson appropriates the religion narrative to construct her identity. Her experimentation with story and narrative begins in her childhood, where she rewrites the Daniel getting eaten by the lions. The Fuzzy-Felt episode is one of the first instances in Jeanette’s childhood where biblical narratives are shown to be open to interpretation, a ‘place where slippage occurs so that Jeanette can see that meaning is in flux, narrative revision is possible, and that the authority to restructure the story and its embedded power relations lies with the storyteller’ (Reisman 14). When confronted by Pastor Finch, she attempts to disguise the story by saying that she was depicting Jonah and the whales, ‘but they don’t do whales in Fuzzy Felt’ (13). The interchangeability of signifiers as proposed by Jeanette in her retelling, presents a threat to the authoritative and exclusivist reading of the church. In response, Pastor Finch seeks to ‘put it right’ (13), suggesting that ‘in his view, there is only one correct version of a story’ (Reisman 14). Through the retelling of the scene that is possible through ‘the medium and Jeanette’s imagination’ (Reisman 14), Jeanette discovers the possibilities of interpretation and the rigidity of the singular interpretation provided by the church, comfortable in its static signifiers for the sake of upholding absolute truth. People like Jeanette’s mother and Pastor Finch cling on to certainty and order that a single authoritative reading of a text provides, conveniently insisting on their correct interpretation of the text, while rejecting the validity of all other interpretations. Jeanette argues that this hanging on to a single authoritative reading establishes ‘order’ and ‘security’, but it is one that ‘doesn’t exist’ and ‘cannot exist’ (96).
Initially, Jeanette attempts to reconcile her love for Melanie with her love of the Lord, but she is unable to convey her intended meaning to the priest. She initially sees ‘Melanie as a gift from the Lord’, that ‘it would be ungrateful not to appreciate her’ (104). However, she is unable to convey the mutually inclusive nature of her love for both the Lord and Melanie, as the pastor constantly barrages her with loaded questions. He first asks her ‘Do you deny you love this woman with a love reserved for man and wife?’ (105), to which she replies, ‘No, yes, I mean of course I love her.’ (105) What appears superficially as a confusion resulting from incoherence and guilt, is better explained as a calm, collected and rational attempt to explain her homosexual love to the church. Her initial ‘no’ in response is a negated denial that she loves Melanie with the intensity and quality of a romantic love, like that of the heterosexual romance. She then follows with a ‘yes’, intending to explain that her love is a different kind of romantic love, and that it is certainly not a love that is ‘reserved for man and wife’ (105). While earnest in her attempt to validate and affirm her homosexual romance, it is the very construction of the question that is informed by the uncontested morality of religious narrative, which causes her superficial inarticulateness. Religious language is simply unable to adequately accommodate her position. Ultimately, it is the unquestioning deference to the authority of the biblical narrative that promotes this exclusive, binary conception of romantic love, and denies the validity of Jeanette’s defense.
Through the appropriation of religious narratives and symbols, Jeanette is ultimately able to transcend the constrictive biblical narratives. Like walls that ‘protect’ and ‘limit’, Jeanette recognizes the comfort and security offered by these narratives, but also feels that ‘It is in the nature of walls that they should fall. That walls should fall is the consequence of blowing your own trumpet’ (113). ‘At one time or another there will be a choice: you or the wall… The City of Lost Chances is full of those who chose the wall’ (114). Here, Jeanette appropriates the story of the battle of Jericho. Like the prophet Joshua, Jeanette puts faith in the power of the trumpet, a sounding horn, to bring down and conquer these walls. However, unlike Joshua who had received the prophesy from God, she is a prophet who ‘has no book’ and ‘are full of sounds that do not always set into meaning’ (164). In contrast, she is a prophet who cries out because she is ‘troubled by demons’ (164), which are ‘Not quite’ ‘evil’, ‘just different, and difficult’ (109). While her church views demons are inherently bad, and to be cleansed away and ‘driven out’ (109), Jeanette portrays the demon favorably, as an integral inner voice, ‘here to keep [her] in one piece’ (109).
Jeanette accepts the unstable fluidity of all narratives and chooses only to listen to her inner voice, and it is the strength of her personality that allows her to resist the easy comfort and security of these narratives, while consciously appropriating material and symbols of these narratives to construct her own. She confidently assumes the position of the ‘prophet’, as with Stephen, who abandons the order of ‘priesthood’ to become a priest artist. Yet, although both characters reject the dominant discourses of religion, only Jeanette is realistic in recognizing the seductive power of narratives. Thus, she constructs her own narrative, which successfully appropriates and destabilizes the biblical narrative, while Stephen’s desire to ‘fly’ on his own may prove futile.
Winterson, Jeanette. Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit. New York: Grove Press, 1985. Print.
Joyce, James. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. London: Penguin Books, 1992. Print.
H. Howell, Edward. Aesthetics/Religion/Nationalism: Situating the Soul of James Joyce. Philadelphia: Villanova University, 2010. Print.
Akoi, Mohammed. “Stephen and the Technique of Symbol switching in Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Ulysses.” Language in India, vol. 13, no. 10, 2013, pp. 294-306.
Reisman, Mara. “Integrating Fantasy and Reality in Jeanette Winterson’s Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit.” Rocky Mountain Review of Language and Literature, vol. 65, no. 1, 2011, pp. 11-35.
A Hardbound God in Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit
A woman climbs into the pulpit and begins to preach. Her words are persuasive and moving, and many believe that she speaks from the Spirit. She is a woman of faith who longs to fulfill her mother’s desire for her to become a missionary. She is smart and she is pious. And according to her congregation, she is an abomination.This gifted preacher is Jeanette, the protagonist in Jeanette Winterson’s “quirky, unconventional, and often comic” novel “Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit” (Merriam-Webster 1207). As was Winterson herself, the book’s protagonist is raised in a climate of religious fanaticism. Her family’s DEEDS OF THE OLD TESTAMENT tablecloth is only one indication of its unswerving devotion to biblical fundamentalism. But just as the word “Bible” means not “a book,” but “a collection of books,” so “Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit” is not a story but a collection of stories. Ranging from the wry to the fanciful, these related anecdotes tell the tale not only of Jeanette’s life, but also a tale about storytelling itself. Through the postmodern use of story frames, Winterson both constructs and deconstructs her own narrative, and in doing so, she builds Jeanette an escape hatch from the snares of religious zealotry.”Oranges” is a book brimming with religious symbolism. Most obviously, the chapters are built on a biblical armature, each named for a book of the Bible. In the first chapter, Genesis, Jeanette tells of her Messiah-style birth: Her mother, not wanting to conceive a child in the typical fashion, “followed a star until it came to settle above an orphanage, and in that place was a crib, and in that crib, a child. A child with too much hair” (Winterson 10). But there the symbolism only begins. Jeanette says that her mother “took the child away for seven days and seven nights” (Winterson 10). The phrase echoes a biblical passage—“So they sat down with [Job] upon the ground for seven days and seven nights” (Job 2:13)—and includes the symbolic number seven, the number of “completion and perfection” (Ferguson 154). The mystical nature of the number is of ancient origin (Sahibzada) and also occurs elsewhere in the novel, as when Pastor Finch ask the young Jeanette how old she is and she replies, “Seven” (Winterson 11). “Ah, seven,” he says. “How blessed, the seven days of creation, the seven-branched candlestick, the seven seals” (Winterson 11). But also how cursed, he thunders, because “the demon can return SEVENFOLD” (Winterson 12). And indeed it does return sevenfold, according to the pastor, when Jeanette is revealed for the second time to be a lesbian (Winterson 131). At the same moment, “seven ripe oranges” appear on the windowsill (Winterson 131). Seven is also, incidentally, the number of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, of the deadly sins, and of the cardinal virtues.Some of the novel’s biblical allusions are more direct, like the amusing reference to Elsie’s three mice in a fiery cage as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Winterson 31)—three figures from the book of Daniel—and the same reference to name to the sorcerer’s three ravens (Winterson 145). But some of the book’s biblical allusions are more subtle: “And so, being sensible, the collector of curios will surround himself with dead things, and think about the past when it lived and moved and had being” (Winterson 95). The reference is to Acts: “For in him we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28).This weaving of religious words and symbols into her novel is no doubt a byproduct of Winterson’s evangelical upbringing. Her parents belonged to the Pentecostal denomination, one that believes that the Bible is literally true in all things—that it is “inerrant” (United Pentecostal Church International). In declaring the Bible inerrant, the church makes it a substitute for God—a form of idolatry called “bibliolatry” (Gomes 36). As John Shelby Spong says in his book Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism, this is a comforting belief:”Those whose religious security is rooted in a literal Bible do not want that security disturbed. They are not happy when facts challenge their biblical understanding or when nuances in the text are introduced or when they are forced to deal with either contradictions or changing insights. The Bible, as they understand it, shares in the permanence and certainty of God, convinces them that they are right, and justifies the enormous fear and even negativity that lie so close to the surface in fundamentalistic religion. For biblical literalists, there is always an enemy to be defeated in mortal combat” (Spong 3).When Jeanette’s lesbian love affair with Melanie comes to light at church, Jeanette becomes an adversary in this mortal combat. Even as recently as 1977, the Pentecostal Church declared that it disapproved of “liberal groups within Christianity who are accepting ‘the so-called gay-rights movement as a legitimate lifestyle” and condemned homosexuality as “vile, unnatural, unseemly and an abomination in the sight of God” (ReligiousTolerance.org). The denomination’s words here are taken from Paul’s epistle to the Romans (Romans 1:26-27). Peter Gomes, the chaplain at Harvard College, explains views like this one in terms of fear. Fear is “at the heart of homophobia, as it was at the heart of racism,” and religion is “a moral fig leaf that [covers] naked prejudice” (Gomes 166). Gomes adds that “no credible case against homosexuality or homosexuals can be made from the Bible unless one chooses to read scripture in a way that simply sustains the existing prejudice against homosexuality and homosexuals. The combination of ignorance and prejudice under the guise of morality makes the religious community, and its abuse of scripture in this regard, itself morally culpable” (Gomes 147).Jeanette’s congregation responds to news of her ongoing homosexuality by rethinking her role in the church overall and prohibiting her from having “influential contact” with the other parishioners (Winterson 134). Here again, they use the Bible to support an existing prejudice: “The real problem, it seemed, was going against the teaching of St. Paul, and allowing women power in the church” (Winterson 133). The Bible does say, after all, that “it is shameful for a woman to speak in church” (1 Corinthians 14:35). Jeanette’s mother is no doubt thinking of this verse and others like it when she stands up in church and says that “the message belonged to the men” (Winterson 133). It would seem to be an occasion of moral clarity, one that would appeal to Jeanette’s mother, who “had never heard of mixed feelings. There were friends and there were enemies” (Winterson 3). And Jeanette had become the enemy.Convinced that it is possible to love another woman and God at the same time, Jeanette ultimately responds by leaving the congregation and setting out on her own. But Jeanette the character is also Jeanette the author: Winterson’s book is largely autobiographical. The author Jeanette writes a book that questions the very act of storytelling. Its postmodern conceit includes frames not only from her own life but also from the Arthurian legend and other apocryphal tales. By including these fanciful elements in her narrative, Winterson deconstructs the storytelling process and shows the hazard of believing in the inerrancy of any book. Her approach is not unlike that of Toni Morrison’s in The Bluest Eye. Morrison deconstructs the traditional “Dick and Jane” children’s story to show that it simply doesn’t apply to African-Americans (Morrison). But Winterson’s deconstruction effort extends to the Bible itself. As Spong says, “We need to be reminded that even in this modern world with its technological genius, there is still no such thing as ‘objective’ history” (Spong 37). By writing a postmodern book on a biblical armature, Winterson seems to say that the Bible itself is open to interpretation. Like her life story, the Bible is a narrative that should not be taken too literally.In doing so, Winterson exposes the gray areas of which her mother seems to be so fearful. “A major function of fundamentalist religion is to bolster deeply insecure and fearful people,” Spong says (Spong 5). But despite her ongoing religious fervor, Jeanette’s mother appears to have softened her position on her daughter’s lesbianism when Jeanette returns home at the end of the story. And Jeanette might well be grateful that being a lesbian has caused her to reexamine the fundamentalist faith she inherited from her mother: By running afoul of her Church’s Christian teaching, she rejects judgment over charity, and in the process becomes more Christian herself.A stanza from an old hymn captures this progressive notion:New occasions teach new duties,Time makes ancient good uncouth;They must upward still and onwardWho would keep abreast of truth.—James Russell Lowell, 1845As Oranges comes to a close, the biblical naming of the book’s chapters is at its most poignant. Consider the familiar “Song of Ruth”:Whither thou goest, I will go;and where thou lodgest, I will lodge:thy people shall be my people,and thy God my God” (Ruth 1:16)This text, sung at so many heterosexual weddings, is a biblical song that—although few realize it—is sung by one woman to another woman. No longer wanting to pursue a traditional heterosexual marriage, Ruth says these words and persuades Naomi that they should be together. In calling this final chapter Ruth, Winterson sheds new light on the notion of biblical literalism.Jeanette’s mother had hoped her daughter would become a missionary, and so she does—a missionary for understanding. WORKS CITEDGomes, Peter J. The Good Book: Reading the Bible with Mind and Heart. New York: Wiliam Morrow and Company, Inc., 1996.Merriam-Webster’s Encyclopedia of Literature. Springfield, Massachusetts: Merriam-Wester, Inc., 1995.Morrison, Toni. The Bluest Eye. New York: Plume, 1994.ReligiousTolerance.org. “Homosexuality and the Pentecostal Movement.” www.religioustolerance.org/hom_upci.htm. Accessed May 8, 2003.Sahibzada, Mahnaz. “The Symbolism of the Number Seven in Islamic Culture and Rituals.” www.wadsworth.com/religion_d/special_features/ symbols/islamic.html. Accessed May 8, 2003.Spong, John Shelby. Rescuing the Bible From Fundamentalism: A Bishop Rethinks the Meaning of Scripture. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1991.United Pentecostal Church International. www.upci.org. Accessed May 8, 2003.
‘Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit’ and the Theme of Music
The autobiographical novel Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson explores the themes of religious tolerance and relationships affected by differences of beliefs. It tells the story of Jeanette, a girl who struggles to find her sexual identity in a deeply religious Christian community that is unable to see eye to eye with her. Jeanette must decide on how to balance conforming to the standards of the church and her mother, as well her individual personality and acceptance of who she really is. As the story progresses Winterson uses the presence and absence of music and sound to highlight the growing rifts between her true identity and that of the church. In the beginning of the novel Winterson describes the two sides of Jeanette’s life with equal joy and nostalgia, reminiscing about her mother’s singing as well as Elsie’s piano and accordion. But a difference in sounds soon appears as problems in the relationship between Jeanette and the church, specifically her mother, start emerging. When Jeanette’s conflicts with the church and her mother are at their strongest, such as after Jeannette is found having a lesbian encounter for the second time, the music is sharply contrasting, with the church musician Mrs. White unable to even play correctly, compared to Mrs Jewsbury, who has found happiness away from the town, teaching music classes. As Jeanette gets older and more experienced, the more she realizes the polarity between her ideas on right and wrong and those of the church, and Winterson expresses this through changing qualities of the once harmonious music into a combination that is dissonant and unable to come together. Winterson uses music and sound as a medium to express the themes of breaking relationships and self realization, and to facilitate the change that occurs through those themes.In the beginning of the book the two role models Jeanette looks up to are her mother and Elsie. At first both of them are described positively through music. Jeanette said that “She[her mother] used to sit at the piano and sing Have you any room for Jesus?”…The men cried into their tankards and stopped playing snooker while she sang. She was plump and pretty and they called her the Jesus belle…many a man will still stop in the street when my mother goes past and raise his hat to the Jesus Belle”(36). Jeanette’s first portrayal is entirely positive, complimenting her mother. This positive description is one of the only ones found in the book. Another early one is Jeanette’s description of Elsie, saying “Elsie Norris…was a great encouragement to our church…I liked her a lot because she had interesting things in her house. She had an organ that you had to pedal if you wanted to make a noise. Whenever I went there she played Lead Kindly Light”(23). Elsie is the only friend that Jeanette bothers to mention in the first chapter of the book. With these two descriptions it is shown that Jeanette seems to associate friendship and love with music, with the primary details that she uses to describe her mother and friend being musical qualities. At this point in her life Jeanette is content and happy with her life in the church, but a difference soon emerges.The first moment where Jeanette starts to realize that the strict religious life of the church is not for her is when she turns deaf. Finally Miss Jewsbury screamed so loud even I heard it ‘This child’s not full of the Spirit,’ she scream, ‘she’s deaf’…Then my mom arrived and seemed to understand what was going on. She signed a form, and wrote me another note. ‘Dear Jeanette, There’s nothing wrong, you’re just a bit deaf. Why didn’t you tell me? I’m going home to get your pajamas”(26)When Jeanette falls deaf she goes unnoticed by the church, who assumes that she was in a state of rapture and that they shouldn’t do anything. This is symbolic of the neglect that the church and mother commit towards Jeanette because they are too religious to realize anything. It takes the intervention of Miss Jewsbury, who was earlier described as “not holy” to make the church realize what was happening with. This polarity is furthered when Jeanette undergoes the surgery to fix her hearing and later wakes up“I knew it, I’d died and the angels were giving me jelly. I opened my eyes expecting to see a pair of wings. ‘Are you an angel?’ I asked hopefully. ‘Not quite, I’m a doctor. But she’s and angel, aren’t you nurse?’…I might’ve languished alone for the rest of the week, if Elsie hadn’t found out where I was, and started visiting me. My mother couldn’t come till the weekend, I knew that”(29)Winterson uses the contrast of scenarios between when Jeanette loses her hearing and when she regains it to show the differences between the church and her. While Jeanette was deaf Winterson surrounded her with members of the church, who were all ignorant to her plight and didn’t stop to listen to her. When Jeanette wakes up from the operation she thinks that she is in heaven and that angels were talking. However she realizes that the people she mistook for angels were simply the doctor and nurse. This signifies that Jeanette’s idea or concept of heaven isn’t that of blind or “deaf” religiousness, but rather that of religion mixed with science, more grounded in reality instead of the strict guidelines imposed on her by the church. Another detail Winterson stresses is that after the operation the only one to regularly visit her was Elsie, not her mother, who was generally unconcerned about Jeanette. Her mother, who is associated with the deafness of the church, basically abandons Jeanette at the hospital, and she doesn’t seem to react to or feel concerned about Jeanette’s condition at all. On the other hand Elsie is the first person to visit her, being associated with reality and acceptance. Elsie is a respected member of the church, and deeply religious, but understands that Jeanette has to find her own self. Winterson is saying that the ones who truly care for her aren’t the people who have blindly changed themselves to fit the needs of the church, but the people who know who they really are and accept reality, like Miss Jewsbury and Elsie. Jeanette might not be realizing it, but Winterson is using the music to show that the life of the church and who Jeanette really is cannot coexist.These differences only grow more apparent as the book progresses. Not much music is mentioned up until the scene where Melanie is brought to church for the first time and Pastor Finch is there:“The first time Melanie came to our church was not a success…Pastor Finch led us back into the church and asked his choir to sing his latest composition…We had a wonderful time…Before long we were all in a long line going clockwise round the church singing the chorus over and over again…it was only then that I noticed Melanie hadn’t joined in…’I feel terrible,’ she confided…Poor Melanie, she didn’t understand any of it, she just knew she needed Jesus”(83-86)Why exactly is this scenario “not a success” to Jeanette? From the viewpoint of her mother or the church this would’ve been a great success, as one more soul had found the lord, and she was here to keep Jeanette company and theoretically away from associating with boys. Jeanette regards this event as not a success not because of what happened with Melanie, but what it made her realise. When watching Melanie struggle with her decision, Jeanette realizes that there is a way out of the strict missionary path set out for her that she has become discontent with, and that is simply to stop following what she is told and exclude herself like what Melanie did, instead of obeying the rules of the church. While Melanie seems to actually enjoy becoming a part of the church, Jeanette seems to use their “bible study sessions” in order to hang out with Melanie, and doesn’t seem to hold the same respect for church anymore. “We talked alot that night about our plans. Melanie really did want to be a missionary, even though it was my destiny. ‘Why don’t you like the idea?’ she wanted to know. ‘I don’t like hot places, that’s all, I got sunstroke in Paignton last year…Over breakfast the next morning she told me she intended to go to university to read theology. I didn’t think it was a good thing on account of modern heresies”(103)Here Jeanette is shown simply indifferent to the idea of becoming a missionary, even though she once regarded it as her life mission. Melanie is now the one enthusiastic about learning religion and theology, while Jeanette just wants to be in the company of Melanie. Jeanette has become more of the outsider than Melanie was at this point, with Melanie joining in singing and the beliefs of the church, while Jeanette is left excluded and on her own. These two pieces of evidence are tied in by Winterson in order to foreshadow what ultimately will occur in the book, with Jeanette leaving the church and Melanie settling down as an obedient wife. Winterson leads up to Jeanette’s expulsion from the church with Jeanette’s last sisterhood meeting “The day after, I did go to the sisterhood meeting..The meeting was near hysterical with the strain of them all wondering what to do. Mrs White kept banging the wrong notes, and Alice lost the thread of her message when she caught me looking over at her…When I got back to Elsie’s it was the first time anyone had talked to me about Miss Jewsbury. ‘She living in Leeds’ Elsie told me, ‘teaching music in one of them special schools. She’s not living alone”(132)When Jeanette finally realizes that she’s different from the rest of the church, Winterson hammers in this point with the symbol of Mrs White’s music and Alice’s message. While nothing in the church has really changed, Jeanette has and she now understands the irreconcilable viewpoints between her and the church. This is shown through the music, as Jeanette, while listening to the same tunes being played at her church, only hears broken fragments of music instead the once harmonious melodies described in the beginning of the book.However, at the end of the book, when Jeanette returns home Winterson returns the music to the harmonious songs found in the beginning“I will go into the parlor and hope for the best. In the parlour I find my mother sitting in front of what is best described as a contraption. More interestingly, she is playing. ‘Hello Mum, it’s me.’ I put down my bag and waited. She swivelled round on her stool, waving a piece of sheet music. The cover said Glad Tidings. ‘Come look at this, it’s specifically for the electronic organ,’ and she swung back again, rippling the keys”(163)As Jeanette and her mother come back together, they settle right back into the relationship they had earlier on in the book, with her mother never apologizing for what she did to Jeanette. Winterson however implies that no apology is necessary, as Jeanette’s mother has already changed enough for their relationship to blossom once more. Instead of the strict and old fashioned woman shown earlier in the book, here Jeanette’s mother is shown to be changing through the music. She is playing electronic music, trying to stay in touch with the world. They avoid an awkward confrontation by talking and focusing on the music, something Winterson had shown throughout the entire book. This is exactly what Winterson is trying to say, that while music can be used as a sign to show change, ultimately it is best used to heal.