Oranges are Not the Only Fruit

by: Jeanette Winterson

Elsie Norris

Elsie Norris is one of the few characters in the novel, aside from Jeanette, whom Winterson regards favorably. Elsie supports Jeanette during all phases of her life, even after it is clear that Jeanette is a lesbian. Elsie probably is the kindest character within the novel. She also is one of the rare church members who truly seems to hold a pure form of religion in her heart. Goodness and compassion motivate Elsie's actions. Elsie becomes close friends with Jeanette when Jeanette is sick in the hospital. Perhaps since Jeanette's mother neglected her, Elsie took pains to visit the hospital every single day. The tales that Elsie told from literature and her own life expose Jeanette to an imaginative realm Jeanette had never seen. Elsie is a respected and fervent member of the church, but she is quite different from the congregation. Elsie is a character who knows her true self. In other words, she represents what Jeanette will spend the novel trying to become—a realized being. Elsie also teaches Jeanette the tools that will help Jeanette on her quest, those found in the imagination. Elsie guides Jeanette onto the right path and unlike Jeanette's mother is a true helper. Even when Jeanette quits the church, Elsie meets with her and does not shun her. Elsie even suggests that it is best for Jeanette to go off and make her own way in the world and that her identity is not necessarily wrong. Unfortunately, Elsie is frequently sick during the novel and dies at its end. Her sickness may be a commentary upon the difficulty of this forceful woman to remain in such a deadened congregation and world. When she dies at the end of the book, Jeanette feels deeply saddened because she has lost her kindly surrogate mother and friend. Elsie Norris stands out as one of the few truly noble characters in the novel.