Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit | Study Guide

Jeanette Winterson

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Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit | Joshua | Summary



One day Jeanette comes home unexpectedly, her violin lesson canceled. Her mother and Mrs. White are at the tail end of a major housecleaning session, and Jeanette wonders why they have gone to so much trouble. By the time she asks Mrs. White, who seems shocked to see her, her mother has gone out on some errands. Jeanette is uneasy as she walks the dog and recalls the feeling she had at the time she calls the "Awful Occasion."

On the "Awful Occasion," which occurred sometime earlier in Jeanette's childhood, but after the fornication incident with "Next Door," Jeanette's natural mother came to the house to try to take Jeanette back. Jeanette had never been told much about her birth and adoption, so what she learns by using a glass to listen to the two women's angry conversation sends her reeling. Her mother finds her crying and knocks her in the head after she asks why she has not been told, saying as a plea, "She's my mother." Furious, her adoptive mother replies, "I'm your mother ... she was a carrying case," a retort that offers Jeanette no comfort, and they never speak of the matter again.

Now Jeanette feels the same sinking sensation and knows it is somehow related to her relationship with Melanie. As she thinks about it, she acknowledges she has been hiding her trysts with Melanie from her mother. They have often stayed at Elsie's house, where they are accepted warmly. The one time Melanie stayed with Jeanette, Jeanette's mother did not want them sleeping in the same bed and stealthily checked on them. Still innocent of why the affair would be viewed as evil when it felt so good, Jeanette then told her mother how strongly she felt about Melanie. Her mother listened but has been distant from her ever since.

When Jeanette gets home from walking the dog, she finds the house empty. Her mother has left a note that she is staying at Mrs. White's that night and Jeanette should come to the church in the morning. Jeanette is happy she can stay with Melanie that night without having to explain it. The girls stay up late discussing their future plans and caressing each other. Jeanette wonders, "What is it about intimacy that makes it so very disturbing?"

When they wake up, they talk more about their future and then get ready for church. As Jeanette kisses Melanie she says, "I love you almost as much as I love the Lord." The girls are a little late getting to church, angering Jeanette's mother. Miss Jewsbury tells Jeanette to remain calm and come speak to her "afterwards, but not till we're out of sight." Jeanette has no idea what Miss Jewsbury is talking about. As she looks around the full church, she feels happy to be there. Then, before she really realizes what is happening, Jeanette sees her mother, weeping, at the front of the church with the pastor. She and Melanie are called forward as the pastor announces they "have fallen under Satan's spell ... foul of their lusts ... full of demons."

Shocked Jeanette vehemently denies the love she has for Melanie is impure. Melanie, however, caves under the pressure and immediately agrees to "give up this sin." Jeanette remains adamant in the belief she can love both Melanie and God and is ordered to go home and wait for the pastor and others to "help" her.

When she leaves the church, Jeanette sees Miss Jewsbury waiting for her. They go to Miss Jewsbury's house. As they talk, Jeanette learns that both Miss Jewsbury and Elsie Norris have what Miss Jewsbury calls the same "problem" Jeanette has, and they had hoped to protect her from the church's wrath upon discovering the kind of relationship she is having with Melanie. Jeanette feels unwell, sleeps for a few hours, then wakes up to find Miss Jewsbury leaning over her. They make love. Jeanette "hated it and hated it, but would not stop."

The next morning Jeanette goes home to find the house full of church people. She sneaks in and prepares to go to school, but the pastor waylays her. From 8:30 that morning until 10:00 that night the church elders pray over her and exhort her to admit her sin. Jeanette resists. When the elders finally leave, the pastor tells her mother to lock Jeanette in and give her no food; they will return in the morning. Thirty-six more hours pass before Jeanette, hungry and exhausted, finally caves in to give a false confession and ask for redemption. During that time she has visions of a small orange demon who talks to her and encourages her to question the religion in which she has been raised. When she asks the demon if it is male or female, the demon replies, "Doesn't matter does it? After all that's your problem." Jeanette decides the orange demon is her ability to love Melanie and decides to keep the demon around, reassuring it when it reappears during her false confession, that she is not getting rid of it.

As soon as the elders are satisfied Jeanette has turned her back on her sins, she is free. Her choice is to go to Miss Jewsbury's to find out where Melanie is. Miss Jewsbury takes her to Halifax, where Melanie has been sent to stay with a relative. Feverish and sick, Jeanette dreams she is in a prison that has a stone turret. She climbs to the top, where she finds a door labeled "BOOKSHOP: OPEN." The woman at the counter tells her she should get to work as a browser. She tells Jeanette that she is in the place "where everyone is who can't make the ultimate decision ... the city of Lost Chances ... the Room of Final Disappointment." When she wakes up, she and Melanie cry, hold each other, and make love.

After Miss Jewsbury takes her home, Jeanette is actually sick for a long time. Her mother roots through her belongings and burns all correspondence with Melanie as well as Jeanette's journals. As Jeanette says, however, "She burnt a lot more than the letters that night." As Jeanette lies ill, she has "minor hallucinations," as the orange demon calls them. She drifts in and out of consciousness, mixing up traditional tales, nursery rhymes, and dreams. Her mother is not particularly helpful or compassionate. At one point she gives Jeanette the usual remedy: oranges.

As summer rolls around, Jeanette recovers and is back to her old life, pre-Melanie (who has gone off to college). Jeanette preaches regularly and has a key role in a tent mission in Blackpool. The one difference is her continued estrangement from her mother, with Jeanette now feeling they are "on different planets." After a successful first night at the tent mission, Jeanette meets Katy, a new convert, and finds herself quickly falling in love with her. After a week the church returns home and turns its attention to the Harvest Festival, a big annual food drive, and then to preparations for Christmas. Jeanette is at the center of these church activities and happy that Katy has been coming to church regularly. Not having seen the orange demon lately, she feels her life "must be back to normal."

At Christmas Melanie comes home, sits at the back of the church during a service, and then comes to Jeanette's house to visit her. Jeanette is troubled and unhappy to see her, for as far as Jeanette was concerned, "Melanie was dead." The next day, however, Jeanette again is forced to be with Melanie, this time on a long bus ride. She escapes as soon as she can but has a familiar feeling of illness as she goes to lead the Bible study that night. Fortunately Katy is there and invites her to spend the weekend at her home. It will be the first time in months Jeanette has stayed anywhere except home.

A short description of a secret garden on the ancient Euphrates River, where "all true quests end" interrupts the narration. At the center of the garden is an orange tree. People who manage to enter the garden eat the fruit, which "speaks of other things, other longings" and so allows the people to leave the garden, "not knowing if you can ever return."

During that weekend at Katy's, Jeanette and Katy also begin a sexual relationship, and it is "blissful," the "most uncomplicated love affair" Jeanette ever has. That Easter Melanie comes home again and announces she is getting married to an army man. Although indifferent to the news, Jeanette does spit on the man when he tells her he knows about their lesbian affair and forgives them both.


Much happens in this chapter, and although things are difficult for Jeanette she emerges a stronger person. She accepts herself even as she begins to reject her mother. She remains rooted in her faith but is comfortable defining it for herself rather than as her mother defines it.

One recurring image in the chapter is walls. In the many stories that pass through her mind, Jeanette sees that she has been walled in her whole life. She sees that walls can offer protection but at the same time can restrict people. When they fall down, as her walls are doing, it is easier to see reality more clearly. When people fail to breach their walls, they can only go to the "City of Lost Chances." Being without walls does not mean being unprotected, however. Winterson makes a reference to the need "to distinguish the chalk circle from the stone wall ... a wall for the body, a circle for the soul," which will make more sense later when she shares another tale.

Another important element in this chapter is the frequent reference to stones and pebbles. The walls found throughout the chapter are all made of stone. The turret in Jeanette's dream is made of stone, and she sees that her mother's heart is made of stone. Winterson uses several references to well-known phrases such as "a stone's throw" and "Who will cast the first stone?" to interweave this image further. In contrast to stones, which Jeanette obviously views with distaste, her orange demon tosses her a rough brown pebble, which will be important later in the novel.

The now-familiar motif of oranges is also prominent in this chapter. Jeanette's mother brings her oranges when she is sick. Melanie offers her an orange, a gesture that distresses Jeanette because it represents a one-dimensional view of things. Her demon pops out of an orange when it gives her the rough brown pebble. The tree in the walled garden on the Euphrates is an orange one with fruit that splits and "pours forth blood." Interestingly, however, by eating the halved oranges provided in a bowl, the people who reach the garden are able to get out of it, to "say goodbye to the place you love." Winterson seems to imply that to move forward Jeanette must keep eating oranges, even though she knows it is not the only fruit and longs for variety, which she may find eventually. In this chapter Jeanette is still gaining the courage to leave that special walled garden she has always called home.

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