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Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit | Study Guide

Jeanette Winterson

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Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit | Ruth | Summary



This chapter opens with a story that parallels Jeanette's life, set in the distant past of magic and sorceries. Winnet, the main character, is Jeanette's imagined alter ego. The sorcerer under whose power she falls is Jeanette's mother.

The chalk circle mentioned briefly in "Joshua" as a good alternative to a wall is explained early in the story about Winnet. Although the use of chalk circles has "gone out of fashion now," during the time of wizardry described in the fairy tale, people used to draw them around themselves because they provided protection. Wizards, as part of their extensive training, must stand inside chalk circles for years until they have enough power to push out of them. This power begins with inner strength and requires a deep understanding of many things.

Winnet comes upon one of the most powerful sorcerers as she walks through the woods. He claims he knows her name, which means he has control of her, but she challenges him. Because a river separates them, he is unable to reach her. But he warns her she will not be able to escape from the forest without his help. After struggling for days with many natural forces, Winnet knows it is true. She is hungry, and the sorcerer invites her to join him for the delicious meal he is cooking. When Winnet still rejects the idea of coming to his side of the river, he admits he does not know her name. Finally Winnet makes a pact with him: she will eat with him, and he will tell her what he wants from her. Then they can go from there. The sorcerer draws a chalk circle, so she can safely cross the water, and throws a rough brown pebble to her.

After they eat, the sorcerer tells her what he wants: "I want ... you to become my apprentice ... first you must tell me your name ... [or] you'll never get out of that circle." Winnet is furious he has tricked her in this way, but she manages to get him to agree that he must guess her name or she will be released. By the end of the day the sorcerer has indeed guessed her name—Winnet Stonejar—and now she must live in his castle and become his apprentice.

Although the castle is strange at first, before long Winnet feels as though she has always been there. She also believes she is the sorcerer's daughter. She observes that he is good to the villagers as long as they are absolutely loyal to him, and she learns how to teach them the way he does.

Then one day a young stranger visits. He becomes friends with Winnet, who invites him to the castle for a feast. At the end of the feast, as the sorcerer hands out gifts in the usual way, he becomes serious and declares a terrible blight has come among them. Putting his hand on the stranger, he identifies him as the source of the problem, says he must be cast out, and declares he "has spoiled my daughter."

Winnet is able to free the boy from the dungeon where he has been bound and tells him he must go to the sorcerer and denounce her, blame her for everything, warning him "you cannot stand by me, for you cannot stand against him." Reluctantly he does as she asks. The sorcerer believes the boy and as a result banishes Winnet from his life for disgracing him, saying "I have no more use for you." Winnet cannot ask for forgiveness because she is innocent, but she does ask to stay. The sorcerer agrees she can stay in the village and take care of the goats.

Winnet is unsure what to do until she gets advice from a beloved raven that lives in the castle. He tells her she will not lose the power she has received from her time with the sorcerer, but she will learn how to use it in different ways. He also says it is best for her to leave and find a new place so she will not be "destroyed by grief." The raven gives her a gift to take with her, a rough brown pebble that he says is his heart. It should remind her that it is good to be free instead of trapped as he is, forever in the castle. As Winnet prepares to leave, the sorcerer sneaks in, in the form of a mouse, and wraps an invisible thread around one of her buttons.

As the narrative is reintroduced, Jeanette has become settled in her new life. She works at a funeral parlor with her friend, the wreath maker, who has gone into the business with a man named Joe. Jeanette also has a second job, driving an ice cream truck. One day when she is out in the truck, she finds herself on the street where Elsie Norris lives. She notices many church people around her house and, fearing the worst, enters the house to find out what has happened. Her mother, Mrs. White, and the pastor are there; they inform her Elsie has died. Then the pastor attempts yet again to get Jeanette to confess her sins and accept the blame for making "an immoral proposition" to Melanie. When she resists and says they were in love, he strikes at her with a painful statement: "She did not love you." He says Melanie told him that herself. Jeanette feels stunned and betrayed. When she returns to the truck and finishes taking care of her customers, Mrs. White approaches to speak disdainfully to her. Jeanette then drives the truck to the shop where it is parked when not in use and advises the owners she will be unable to work for a couple of days.

Winterson then returns to Winnet's story. Winnet has had a hard time on her own in the forest, but a kind woman saves her, bringing her back to health, and taking her home to the village where she lives. There the people welcome her and give her work. They know the sorcerer and think he is "mad and dangerous." Winnet cannot master the language of these people and so is unable to talk much to anyone. She decides she will move to a city, and even though the villagers warn her against it, she makes up her mind to get there somehow.

The narrative of the novel picks up again the morning after Jeanette learns of Elsie's death. She learns from Joe that the funeral parlor will be handling the preparation of Elsie's body and the memorial service for her. That night Jeanette takes good care of Elsie's body and spends considerable time talking to her dead friend. When she finally goes home around dawn, she gets a call from Joe asking her to prepare the meal for the memorial service because the wreath maker had an accident. Jeanette warns Joe that the church members will be very unhappy at her involvement, but Joe dismisses her fears.

Indeed Jeanette is treated poorly as she serves the members of her old church. Her mother even denies her as her daughter. Jeanette feels bad, but Joe steadfastly supports her. Nevertheless she realizes how lonely she is, cut off entirely from her previous life. Then as she washes the dishes, Miss Jewsbury suddenly appears. They speak briefly, but Jeanette declines her offer to visit her.

Within a short time, Jeanette accepts a job at a mental hospital in the city. She takes the job because she will be able to live in a room there.

Winterson then relates the last part of the Winnet story. Continuing to dream of moving to the city, Winnet learns she will need to travel there by boat on a river, and so she learns from a blind man how to sail. The night before she makes the trip, she decides to sleep outside "where she could sniff and sense the earth she was leaving." She dreams that she travels inside her body "to know the extent of her territory."

Back in the narrative Jeanette has been in the city for several years when someone asks, "When did you last see your mother?" Jeanette has been reluctant to go back, afraid of losing the self she has worked so hard to find. But the question seems to nudge her toward the decision she makes to return home one Christmas. She takes the train and then walks through town to the house. She finds her mother playing an electronic organ in place of the piano. For the first 30 minutes they are together, Jeanette's mother demonstrates its various capabilities. When Jeanette asks about the Society for the Lost, she learns it no longer exists, having been plagued by various scandals. The Morecambe guest house has suffered the same fate. Then they talk briefly about Jeanette and what she is doing, but avoid discussion of her private life.

The narrative is again interrupted, this time with another excerpt from Sir Perceval's legend. After a long period of searching, he has finally found "a glorious castle built of mountain rock and set upon the side of a hill." He is greeted by dwarves and taken to a room to rest. As he sleeps, he dreams of a previous time when he glimpsed the Holy Grail but did not recognize it.

Back in the narrative Jeanette wakes up the morning after her arrival at her parents' house and is given a shopping list by her mother. When she goes to town, she stops in to see Mrs. Arkwright and is surprised to learn of the woman's elaborate plans to modernize her life and move to a beach in Spain. To get the last of the money she needs to make the move, she plans to burn her building down and claim the insurance.

As Jeanette does the errands, she wonders if she's ever been away. Her mother is treating her as she always has; life in town seems unchanged. The shopping finished, Jeanette walks up the hill where she always used to go. She ponders about God and her desire for a complete love. She is frightened that her needs are still not being met, even though she has sought to rectify that lack. But she is frightened of being betrayed the way Melanie betrayed her—"promising to be on your side, then being on somebody else's." She has seen Melanie since leaving home and was shocked by how little Melanie seemed to care about what they once had. Melanie stays in touch with Jeanette's mother and still wants to be a missionary even though she remains married and has children. As she walks down the hill to the house, Jeanette suddenly misses her dog and feels regret "for her death, for my death, for all the inevitable dying that comes with change."

At the house her mother is busy as usual with another one of her new electronic devices, a CB radio that has taken the place of her radiogram. Jeanette's mother is thrilled with the access it gives her to other Christians all over England and warns Jeanette not to bother her when she is listening to her reports. As she goes to bed, Jeanette strangely feels she wants to go back to her past.

The narrative is interrupted one final time with the last installment of the Sir Perceval legend as told by Winterson. Perceval has dined with his host and is up late at night examining his hands, which are different from each other. He is tired of his quest and questioning his choice to leave the Knights of the Round Table. He thinks he might want to return. That night he dreams he is a spider hanging from a tree. Then a raven flies through his thread, causing him to drop to the ground and scuttle away.

As the main narrative draws to a close, Jeanette stays with her parents until just after Christmas. Things are familiar at home, yet different. Jeanette does not attend church. She sees how much her mother's life has changed, with the loss of the Society for the Lost and the disgraceful demise of the Morecambe guest house. Yet her mother remains as obsessed with religion as ever, and Jeanette realizes her mother still has a thread tied around Jeanette's button. Jeanette only hopes "a woman in another place" will save her.


The richness of this final chapter comes from the interweaving of the stories of Jeanette, Winnet, and Sir Perceval. Just as Winterson appears to have made up the story of Winnet to make sense of her own story (and to help readers make sense of it as well!), Jeanette clings to the Sir Perceval legend to try to keep herself focused on the important quest she is on as she struggles to leave her past behind in the same way the knight struggles. It is no coincidence that Perceval seeks a Holy Grail; Jeanette seeks to make peace with a religious past that sustained her for so long and yet betrayed her. When Jeanette thinks at the end about the thread binding her to her mother, it is the same thread the sorcerer uses to bind Winnet to him and the same thread Perceval dreams of tying him to a tree when he is in the form of a spider. The question is, will Jeanette succeed at breaking that thread so she, too, can at least in her way scuttle off, free at last?

Jeanette does not seem to need to mention her sexuality in this final chapter, except to express her longing for a true, lasting love, "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." She also makes it clear that this type of love will never come to her in the form of a man "because they want to be the destroyer and never the destroyed."

As she reflects on the last interaction with Melanie, Jeanette is still resentful of how she was betrayed. Melanie's continuing contact with Jeanette's mother and collaboration with her on her mission efforts seem like another betrayal, as if Melanie wants to take Jeanette's place. The final blow comes when Melanie shares a statement Jeanette's mother makes about fruit. Having been told her whole life by her mother that oranges are the only fruit, she now hears her mother has decided "oranges are not the only fruit." This change of opinion has come about because her mother mistakenly believed African people prefer to eat pineapples—and had oversupplied a mission trip with this fruit.

Does this mean there might be other ways to love too? Jeanette knows this is true, but she also knows her mother will never come around on this issue. Her mother's stubbornness is the reason Jeanette must continue to leave her past behind and live in the way that is best for her. The woman who denied her as her daughter at Elsie Norris's funeral will continue to deny her as the person she truly is.

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