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Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (1985) is a semi-autobiographical bildungsroman by British author Jeanette Winterson. It tells a story of the experiences of the protagonist and first-person narrator, Jeanette, as she grows up in the early 1980s with her extremely religious mother and grapples with her sexuality and notions of good and evil.  Read on to find out about the summary and themes of the book!

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Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit

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Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (1985) is a semi-autobiographical bildungsroman by British author Jeanette Winterson. It tells a story of the experiences of the protagonist and first-person narrator, Jeanette, as she grows up in the early 1980s with her extremely religious mother and grapples with her sexuality and notions of good and evil. Read on to find out about the summary and themes of the book!

Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit, Jeanette Winterson, StudySmarter

Bildungsroman: a novel detailing a character's experiences growing up.

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit: summary

Overview: Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit
Author of Oranges Are Not the Only FruitJeanette Winterson
Published1985
GenreBildungsroman
Brief summary of Oranges Are Not the Only FruitA coming-of-age novel that follows the life of Jeanette, a young girl who is raised in an extremely religious household in Northern England. As she grows up, she begins to realize that she is attracted to other girls, which conflicts with the strict beliefs of her community.
List of main charactersJeanette, Jeanette's mother, Melanie, Miss Jewsbury, Katy, Elsie Norris, Auntie May
ThemesReligion, gender roles, community, sexuality
SettingAn unnamed town in Northern England during the 1960s
AnalysisThe end of the novel sees how Jeanette is excommunicated from her church for her homosexuality. This event forces her to re-evaluate her beliefs and ultimately leads to her leaving her community and finding her own identity outside of the church. The novel explores the difficulties of growing up in a strict religious community and coming to terms with one's sexuality.

At the beginning of the novel, Jeanette is 7 years old. She was adopted at a young age and her adoptive parents are part of the Pentecostal church, the ‘Society for the Lost’, led by Reverend Eli Bone. Jeanette’s father is rarely present in her day-to-day life, and her mother homeschools her. Most of what she learns comes from the Bible and she learns how to read the Bible and how to write sermons.

The local authorities later demand that she attends formal education, but she finds she is an outcast at school. The stories and artwork she creates in class scare the other children as they have vivid depictions of hell. The religious teachings she has adopted from her mother and her church also make her an outcast amongst her classmates. Upon hearing this from the teacher, Mrs Vole, Jeanette’s mother praises her and rewards her for this as they go to watch a movie.

Oranges

Jeanette loses her hearing for a time when she is 7 years old and does not talk for weeks. Her mother believes she is having a divine experience and refuses to seek medical attention for her. So, Jeanette herself believes she is having a divine experience. When Jeanette admits to Miss Jewsbury that she has not been able to hear, Miss Jewsbury takes her to the hospital and she undergoes a minor operation. During her recovery in the hospital, her mother visits infrequently, bringing plenty of oranges for her, to comfort her.

Relationships and friendships

Jeanette has little exposure to sex and romantic relationships. The only information about these topics she has is when her mother tells her a tale about when she thought she was in love. Her mother had premarital sex with a Frenchman, Pierre, and had a funny feeling in her stomach, later understood to be an ulcer. Her mother uses this as a teaching of the consequences of carnal pleasures.

At 14 years old, Jeanette spots Melanie at the fish markets. They develop a friendship and Jeanette invites Melanie to her church. They often spend time at Melanie’s house for Bible study or meet at Elsie Norris’ house. Jeanette tells her mother about her feelings towards Melanie, and how happy spending time with Melanie makes her. Her mother warns her that she should not let anyone touch her private regions.

Jeanette and Melanie have sex soon after. Jeanette thinks about how their connection is considered an unnatural passion by the church. Their love affair is soon found out, and they are confronted by the congregation. Melanie repents and leaves the church and the community. Jeanette initially refuses to repent. Jeanette spends the night at Miss Jewsbury’s house as she cannot go back to her mother’s home. Miss Jewsbury has sex with an underage Jeanette, hence it is rape, and Jeanette is very disgusted by what has happened.

Later in the novel, after Melanie has left the community, Katy joins Jeanette's church. They develop a friendship and then a relationship. Katy provides comfort to Jeanette after Melanie’s visit to the church to rekindle their friendship. At this time, Jeanette writes sermons and preaches to the church, and she teaches the Sunday school children.

Jeanette’s exorcism

When Jeanette leaves Miss Jewsbury’s house to go home and straight to school, she finds some of the church congregation having a prayer meeting. The church congregation perform an ‘exorcism’ on Jeanette after finding out she is in a relationship with Melanie. They keep her locked in a dark room for 36 hours with no food and no water. Jeanette hallucinates about an orange demon. The orange demon represents the church’s grip on her life and on how she lives her life having to adhere to its rules, as these are the 'comforts' she has been brought up with. Jeanette pretends to repent so she can finally eat. She does not see anything wrong in loving Melanie and loving God at the same time.

Jeanette’s role in the church

After her exorcism, Jeanette begins to take a more active role in her church. Jeanette’s mother and the church believe that women should not have leadership roles. They cite it as the reason Jeanette feels she is now a man, so can now behave like a man by having relationships with women. Henceforth, women are no longer allowed to preach or teach at Jeanette’s church. Jeanette leaves the church and her home. She works odd jobs for money, including being an ice cream truck driver and helping at the funeral parlour in her community.

When Jeanette stops by Elsie’s house one day to pay her a visit during work, she finds Elsie’s house full of members of her former church congregation as Elsie recently died. She is forbidden from attending the funeral, but her local funeral parlour where she works is holding Elsie’s funeral. Jeanette helps serve refreshments, hoping that she is not recognised by members of the church, but her mother recognises her and publicly disowns her.

The visit home

Soon after, Jeanette leaves for the city, wanting to build a new life there. She misses her community and her mother, despite being an outcast, and decides to visit for Christmas. Upon arriving home, her mother receives her kindly. Jeanette's mother reveals that her church has been disbanded due to financial and moral corruption, including the use of church funds to pay for the reverend's estranged wife’s living maintenance, whilst the reverend lived with his girlfriend.

Jeanette sees that her church community is falling apart and her mother is trying to do what she can to keep it together. Her mother has a new radio, and Jeanette watches her as she tries to connect with other Christians throughout England using the radio.

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit: characters

The main characters are Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit are Jeanette, her mother, Melanie, Miss Jewsbury, and Katy among others.

Jeanette

Jeanette is the protagonist and narrator of Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit. The book follows her development and experiences from the age of 7 to adulthood. As a child, she is extremely devout, following the example of her mother. She is homeschooled and her mother uses the Bible as the primary tool to do this. Through her first experiences with Melanie, Jeanette realises that she loves the same sex and it is a part of her that she does not want to shun.

Jeanette’s mother

Jeanette’s mother is a fervent Christian who trains Jeanette to be a servant of God in the hopes that she will go on to evangelise others. Jeanette's mother plays a huge role in her life as she controls everything Jeanette does. This control begins to lessen slightly for the first time when Jeanette is enrolled in formal education and learns that her attitudes make her an outcast.

Melanie

Melanie is Jeanette’s first romantic partner. They meet when Jeanette is 14 years old, and Jeanette spots her working at a fish market. Melanie is polite and demure, but not an intellectual. When her relationship with Jeanette is discovered, she immediately repents for her acts. She later marries an army man and has children with him. Melanie denies her relationship with Jeanette when she returns to the congregation to introduce her then-fiance to them.

Miss Jewsbury

Miss Jewsbury is a more progressive member of the church congregation. She is a lesbian but has not revealed her sexual identity to the church and refuses to do so. Members of the church know that she has sexual relations with other women and so they disdain her and see her as unholy, but she does not choose to be open with her sexual identity. Miss Jewsbury welcomes Jeanette into her home the night before her exorcism occurs, and sleeps with an underage Jeanette. Jeanette is disgusted by the situation.

Katy

Katy is Jeanette’s second love who she meets when she is a bit older. Katy joins the church and the two begin a love affair. Katy is confident and unashamed of her sexuality, which is in contrast to Melanie. Katy helps instil this same confidence in Jeanette about her sexuality.

Elsie Norris

Elsie Norris is one of the elders of the church congregation. She allows Melanie and Jeanette to meet at her house sometimes for Bible study, but she discovers they are having a love affair and tells the congregation. Elsie’s death is what leads to Jeanette crossing paths with her congregation again after she leaves at the age of 16.

Auntie May

Auntie May is a member of the church congregation and she has a good relationship with Jeanette and her mother. She is portrayed as kind, friendly and fun.

Mrs Vole

Mrs Vole is Jeanette’s teacher who reports to her mother about her creating stories and artwork with vivid depictions of hell in it.

Ida

Ida is a lesbian who is described as running the ‘forbidden paper shop’ (Chapter ‘Numbers’). She sometimes spends time with Auntie May. Ida's presence is symbolic as she interacts with Jeanette on the same day that Jeanette meets Melanie. Ida represents the type of person Jeanette could become - a woman open and confident in her sexuality.

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit: themes

The main themes of Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit are religion, gender roles, conformity, and sexuality.

Religion

Religion is a key theme in Oranges are not the only Fruit (1985). Jeanette is brought up with a mother who is a religious fanatic, and she is homeschooled with these teachings, with the Bible being her primary learning tool. Religion is shown as a tool used to control the actions and thoughts of people. The orange demon that Jeanette hallucinates about, during her 36 hours of confinement after her relationship with Melanie is revealed, is representative of religion and of Jeanette’s process of self-acceptance in the face of religious teachings.

My mother, out walking that night, dreamed a dream and sustained it in daylight. She would get a child, train it, build it, dedicate it to the Lord:

a missionary child,

a servant of God,

a blessing.

-Chapter 'Genesis'

Jeanette's mother's attitude to having a child is to completely devote that child's life to God just as she has devoted her own life to God. Her mother speaks of having a child as though the act of bringing up that child is in service of God, not really in service of the child.

Gender roles

Jeanette interacts with mostly women throughout the novel. When she is young, she observes that many women are dissatisfied with the men in their lives, and this frames her thoughts on what a man’s role could possibly be in her life. Later in the novel, Jeanette is reprimanded for preaching and teaching in the church when her relationship with her second lover Katy is discovered. Their belief is that giving her roles that are fit for a man has led her to believe she can act like a man and have romantic relations with women. This prompts her to leave the church for good.

As far as I was concerned men were something you had around the place, not particularly interesting, but quite harmless.

-Chapter 'Judges'

This quote is from after Jeanette has been told by her mother that she'll have to leave home. Her mother and the church believe she thinks she is a man as she thinks it is acceptable to have romantic relations with women. Her mother has a general disgust for men, describing them as 'aping men', but Jeanette's indifference towards men and romantic relations with men is an issue.

Tradition and community

Jeanette feels that her mum believes oranges are the only fruit, hence the title which is a retort to that. Oranges are a symbol of the ideologies, principles and values that Jeanette’s mother has imposed on her from a young age. Whenever Jeanette was in distress and needed comforting, her mother would give her oranges. Through her experiences in the novel, Jeanette decides that the way of living she has been shown is not the only way to go through life.

My mother looked horrified and rooting in her handbag she gave me an orange. I peeled it to comfort myself, and seeing me a little calmer, everyone glanced at one another and went away.

-Chapter 'Genesis'

When Jeanette's mother is about to leave her in the hospital, Jeanette begins to cry. Her mother gives her an orange and Jeanette is comforted by this. This shows how her mother does not truly deal with the reason why Jeanette is distressed but instead tries to patch it up in the way she knows how to and the way she always does - by giving her oranges. This is similar to Jeanette's mother feeding her religious values so that it is all she is familiar with and what she goes to for answers and comfort.

Oranges Are No the Only Fruit Overview, Oranges, StudySmarter

Fig. 2 - In the novel, oranges represent comfort and familiarity.

Sexuality

Jeanette is shunned for her homosexuality when her relationships with Melanie and Katy are discovered by the church congregation. Upon finding out she is in a relationship with Melanie, Jeanette is exorcised by her church congregation in her home in the hopes that it will rid her of her lesbianism. Jeanette is taught that her homosexuality is shameful and sinful, but she does not truly repent in her heart after the exorcism.

At that point I had no notion of sexual politics, but I knew that a homosexual is further away from a woman than a rhinoceros.

-Chapter 'Judges'

This description places being homosexual as something that is not possible for women, and it even makes one less of a woman than before. This plays into the traditional considerations of what a woman should be like which Jeanette's mother perpetuated. This is one of the things that Jeanette was taught growing up that she needs to confront.

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit: analysis

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit's structure and main message are often analysed with the themes of religion and sexuality.

Structure

The chapters in Oranges are comprised of Bible verses: 'Genesis', 'Exodus', 'Leviticus', 'Numbers', 'Deuteronomy', 'Joshua', 'Judges', 'Ruth'. These correlate to the stories being told within each chapter. For example, 'Genesis' is the first book in the Bible and denotes the beginning of God’s creation. Genesis in the novel is where readers find the beginning of Jeanette’s tale.

Main message and title significance

The main message of Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (1985) is that themes that are seen as binaries do not have to be in conflict with each other. This is shown through the characters’ attitudes to themes such as good and evil, homosexuality and religion. Jeanette’s mother in the novel has her own definition of good and her own definition of evil. Part of her definition of evil is Jeanette’s homosexuality, and so she sees Jeanette as evil. Yet, Jeanette does not initially understand - she feels that she can love women and also love God at the same time.

The novel is called Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit because the protagonist, Jeanette, is offered oranges by her mother whenever things are going awry. These oranges become symbolic of her mother’s dominance in her life and how her mother imposes her values and principles onto Jeanette.

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit: quotes

Let's take a look at some important quotes which follows the main themes of the novel.

As it is, 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 be on my side for ever and ever. I want someone who will destroy and be destroyed by me. There are many forms of love and affection, some people can spend their whole lives together without knowing each other’s names. -Jeanette (Chapter ‘Ruth’)

This is part of a sermon that Jeanette creates as she is on her way back to her mother’s home after being out for the day during her visit to her mother at the end of the novel. In this sermon, Jeanette thinks about her relationship with God, her thoughts on sin, and her thoughts on love.

I came to this city to escape. If the demons lie within they travel with you. Everyone thinks their own situation most tragic. I am no exception.- Jeanette (Chapter ‘Ruth’)

Jeanette thinks this when she is speaking with friends of hers and is asked what would have happened had she stayed in her community. This prompts her to consider an alternate reality of life. She mentions that she came to the city to escape from her community, yet there is no real escape from what she encountered if she does not deal with the demons within.

If I let them take away my demons, I’ll have to give up what I’ve found.- Jeanette (Chapter ‘Joshua’)

Jeanette thinks this during the 36 hours she is kept confined and without food by her mother and the church congregation. During this time, she hallucinates seeing an orange demon which is symbolic of the process of her accepting herself as she is forced to think about why having a love affair with Melanie is such an evil act.

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit - Key takeaways

  • Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (1985) is written by British author Jeanette Winterson.
  • The book is about the experiences of the protagonist and first-person narrator, Jeanette, as she grows up with her extremely religious mother and grapples with her sexuality and notions of good and evil.
  • The main message is that themes that are seen as binaries do not have to be in conflict with each other.
  • The main themes are religion, sexuality, oranges, and women and womanhood.
  • Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit is a semi-autobiographical Bildungsroman.

References

  1. Fig. 1 - Jeanette Winterson (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Installation_of_Chancellor_Professor_Jackie_Kay_MBE_-_University_of_Salford,_Peel_Hall_(17136470459)_(cropped).jpg) by University of Salford Press Office (https://www.flickr.com/people/32104790@N02) is licensed by CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en)

Frequently Asked Questions about Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit

The author of Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (1985) is Jeanette Winterson.

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (1985) is about the experiences of the protagonist and first-person narrator, Jeanette, as she grows up with her extremely religious mother and grapples with her sexuality and notions of good and evil. 

The main message of Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (1985) is that themes that are seen as binaries do not have to be in conflict with each other.

At the end of Orange Are Not the Only Fruit (1985) Jeanette returns from the city to visit her mother during Christmas. 

The novel is called Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit because the protagonist, Jeanette, is offered oranges by her mother whenever things are going awry. These oranges become symbolic of her mother’s dominance in her life and how her mother imposes her values and principles onto Jeanette.  

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