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Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit | Study Guide

Jeanette Winterson

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Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit | Numbers | Summary



This chapter opens with the description of a recurring dream Jeanette has, although its dream status is not immediately apparent. Jeanette dreams she is about to be married. The priest is fat and expanding as she walks up the aisle. When told to kiss her new husband, Jeanette recounts, "Sometimes he was blind, sometimes a pig, sometimes my mother, sometimes the man from the post office, and once, just a suit of clothes with nothing inside." Apparently the dream is inspired by a neighbor woman's comment about being married to a pig, a comment that spurs Jeanette's active, childhood imagination into trying to catch him showing his true self as a pig. The man from the post office who sometimes appears in her dream is the manager and has shown a somewhat questionable interest in Jeanette, a child.

As Jeanette muses on men and marriage, she realizes the promise "you found the right man" is probably not true. She does not know anyone married to "the right man." Going to the library to do some research on the topic, she ends up reading "Beauty and the Beast," the fairy tale that ends with the beast, whom a kind, beautiful young woman is forced to marry, turning into a handsome prince. Jeanette has plenty of evidence that this is not often the outcome of marriage stories.

When Jeanette tries to talk about these fears, her mother dismisses them by saying Jeanette won't have to worry about being with a man because she has her path clearly laid out before her. She is "dedicated to the Lord," bound for missionary school. Besides, she reminds Jeanette, she should believe in the possibility of a perfect marriage, like the one between Jane Eyre and St. John. The problem is Jeanette's mother has never told the real story of Jane Eyre—a fact Jeanette discovers on her own when she reads the book herself and learns that Jane Eyre goes back to Mr. Rochester—just as her mother has used a revisionist approach in telling Jeanette about her infancy and adoption. Thus these comments are no help to Jeanette and cause her to wonder for the first time about her mother's wisdom and how to find what she really wants to know.

So Jeanette starts hiding around town where she can hear women who don't belong to her church talk to one another about their relationships with men. She relates one conversation in particular between two crass women, Doreen and Nellie, who complain about the men they have had in their lives and gossip about other people's equally bad marriages, as well as the two women who own the paper shop and live together. Doreen and Nellie also hint at the possibility that Doreen's daughter, Jane, might be the subject of the same sort of gossip because she spends most of her time, including nights, with Susan, another girl her age. All of this information shocks Jeanette so much she returns her focus to the Bible and her missionary future. She decides she will one day "fall in love like everybody else." And then she tells about doing just that ... some years later. The person she falls in love with is Melanie, a young woman her age.

Jeanette first sees Melanie on a day she is in town with her mother and feeling especially miserable. Jeanette needs a new raincoat, and her mother forces on her, because it is cheap, a bright pink rain jacket, ugly and much too big. Jeanette hates everything about the garment, especially the color, and even says she hates her mother. Jeanette sulks as she suddenly notices everything pink wherever they go. Then she spies Melanie, who is at work boning fish. Immediately attracted to her, Jeanette strikes up a conversation before her mother forces her to move on.

Jeanette and her mother meet friends at Trickett's, the restaurant in town. They gossip with the waitress, Betty Grimsditch, about people in town. They all dislike a snobby woman, Mrs. Clifton. When Betty asks if Jeanette would like a Saturday job washing dishes, Jeanette's mother accepts for her, and Jeanette starts that day, happy for the chance to do something on her own, especially since it is close to Melanie. After many weeks, she finally works up enough courage to approach her and talk to her, and soon they become friends. Melanie accepts Jeanette's invitation to attend her church, converts the very first time, and asks Jeanette to serve as her counselor. This relationship allows them to be together often. Jeanette feels as though she has a friend for the first time since Elsie Norris, and she talks about Melanie all the time.

Meanwhile her mother thinks Jeanette is romantically interested in a boy from church named Graham, but Jeanette is merely teaching him guitar and helping him with Bible study. In preparation to a warning about letting anyone touch her "Down There," Jeanette's mother tells about her own romantic tryst with the Frenchman Pierre, with whom she had a one-night affair as a young teacher in Paris before becoming religious.

That night Jeanette's sexual affair with Melanie begins. Jeanette wonders if it is "Unnatural Passion," which she has heard about her whole life yet never understood. But because the girls are so active in the church and so comfortable there, where they feel like part of a big family, they see nothing wrong with how they feel about each other.

The chapter ends with a reference to storming the Winter Palace, an event that took place when rebels overthrew the Russian czar during the Revolution. Inside the palace the elite feel completely safe and comfortable, having no idea what is about to happen.


During the events described in this chapter, Jeanette finds herself, beginning for the first time with her rejection of her mother and her revisionist view of the world. With some situational irony, this event occurs on the day Jeanette meets her future lover, Melanie. Yet it is a bittersweet development, as Jeanette remains completely innocent about sexuality. It seems women should not love each other in a romantic way, according to her church (although that is never directly stated), yet she sees no goodness in the relationships she witnesses all around her between men and women. She feels extremely anxious she will end up with a "beast," as have so many women she knows. So when she feels comfortable and happy with Melanie and when such a big part of their relationship is about their service to the church, she thinks, how can it be wrong? And because it is the first time she has actually had a friend her own age, Jeanette is not convinced this relationship is different from the way all good friends feel about each other. After all her mother spends most of her time with other women and shares a type of intimacy with them Jeanette has not observed between men and women.

In her innocence Jeanette talks to her mother often about Melanie and how much she loves to be with her. Yet her mother chooses to focus only on the time Jeanette is spending with Graham, warning her not to take the step toward intimacy with Graham that she herself took with Pierre in her youth. As usual Jeanette's mother has her blinders on to the truth in favor of what she thinks is important.

The allusion at the end of the chapter to the storming of the Winter Palace in late October of 1917 foreshadows events that will happen to Jeanette and Melanie. Just as the two feel completely safe within the church and cannot guess they will soon experience its wrath, the people inside the palace had no idea their lives were about to be turned upside down. The twist about this allusion that should not be overlooked, however, is that the people inside the palace were "the elite" of Russia, so sure of their position they could never dream of being overthrown. Similarly the church members view themselves as "the elite," the chosen people of God, secure in their future place in heaven. So this story has double significance—both as the sardonic view Winterson has toward this elitist mentality and as the false feeling of safety Jeanette and Melanie have as members of the church.

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