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Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit | Study Guide

Jeanette Winterson

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Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit | Motifs



Oranges are a prominent motif throughout the book as a reminder of the limitations of a black-and-white perspective on the world, such as the inflexibility of Jeanette's mother's polarized views. "Oranges are the only fruit," she says, as she gives them to Jeanette over and over, when Jeanette really needs something else, such as her mother's approval or attention, or when she really craves some variety.

It is not by accident that Jeanette's orange demon pops out of an orange to present her a talisman to help her resolve to leave her church and home because of the lack of acceptance of her homosexuality. It is fitting, therefore, when the pastor and Jeanette's mother try to get her to renege on that idea that Jeanette offers them an orange. Jeanette indicates she wishes they too were forced to accept a way of thinking they feel is wrong, just as they are trying to force her to do. It is also fitting for Melanie to offer Jeanette an orange when they are on the bus together and Jeanette feels uncomfortable. Melanie has obviously given in and decided to go with the status quo, with the idea that "oranges are the only fruit." She is eating the poison fruit, as Jeanette sees it, and betraying Jeanette in the process.

Jeanette eats oranges throughout her childhood, often when she is sick. When she decides to leave home, her greatest fear is the possibility of having to sell oranges at a fruit stand. She wants to leave them behind. She does manage to do that and is somewhat surprised when she learns years later that her mother has reversed her opinion about oranges as the only fruit. However, after visiting with her mother, she realizes she will never fully reverse her black-and-white view on homosexuality as evil.


Whenever rough, brown pebbles appear in the story, whether in the narration or in the interwoven stories, the characters who carry them hold the objects tightly to help stay strong in their journey to selfhood. Jeanette's orange demon gives her a rough, brown pebble when she most needs it. Winnet's beloved raven gives her a pebble, telling her it is his heart to carry with her out into her new life.

The solidity and tactile nature of the pebbles help people feel them and draw strength from them. These pebbles are small remnants of protection from the walls that have held them in and kept them from reaching the places in the life where they need to be.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are biblical characters who appear twice in Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, as fitting examples of remaining true to oneself when on a journey of self-discovery. In the book they are three mice owned by Elsie Norris and three ravens owned by the sorcerer to whom Winnet becomes an apprentice.

In the Bible, the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego appears in the Book of Daniel. They are three Hebrews who refuse to renounce their beliefs when Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, commands them to do so. The king orders the men to worship a golden idol rather than their God and throws them into a fiery furnace when they refuse to comply. Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego believe their God will save them, and their faith confirms their belief as they emerge from the fire unscathed. Their resolve to remain true to their belief is part of the journey to selfhood, and so the story is referred to when resolve is most important in the stories of Jeanette and her alter-ego Winnet.

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