Skip over navigation

Oranges are Not the Only Fruit

Jeanette Winterson

Chapter 2: Exodus

Chapter 1: Genesis

Chapter 3: Leviticus

Summary

Jeanette's mother and Jeanette are discussing why Jeanette has to go to school. Jeanette's mother says that she will go to jail if Jeanette does not go. The radio broadcasts an account of the family life of snails and Jeanette's mother violently declares such a program to be an abomination. Jeanette considers this program and decides that her mother is overreacting.

As Jeanette's mother gets her ready for the first day of school, Jeanette remembers a time when she lost her hearing. When it happened, her mother and her church thought that she, at the symbolic age of seven, had gone into a state of rapture where she was communing deeply with the Lord. Jeanette then talks about Elsie Norris a church member who is obsessed with the number seven (praying at both seven a.m. and seven p.m.). Elsie believes in numerology and often casts a die to see what Bible passage she should read.

When Jeanette lost her hearing, she wrote a note to her mother telling her that the world had become very quiet. Jeanette's mother did nothing. Later, Jeanette met up with Miss Jewsbury, another church member, on the street. Miss Jewsbury was not aware that Jeanette was supposedly in a state of rapture and realized instantly that Jeanette had gone deaf. Miss Jewsbury took Jeanette to the hospital where Jeanette later has surgery. During Jeanette's stay in the hospital, Jeanette's mother visits her infrequently as she is busy with the church. Instead, she leaves Jeanette with a large bag of oranges. Jeanette remarks that for her mother oranges were the only fruit.

Although her mother neglects her, Elsie visits Jeanette daily in the hospital. Elsie quotes Blake, Swinburne, W.B. Yeats and the "Goblin Market" by Christina Rossetti. One day Elsie leaves her with two poetic lines, "All things fall and are built again/And those that build them again are gay." When Jeanette leaves the hospital, she stays at Elsie's house for a while because Jeanette's mother is busy with the church. Elsie has painted a wooden box with red flames and placed three mice called Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego inside. Elsie decorates her house with photos of famous literati, politicians, and scientists. Elsie tells Jeanette that there is more to the world than meets the eye and that Jeanette must bring the one in her chest and the one outside together.

When Jeanette goes to school, she feels like she learns nothing but dancing. She looks forward to the coming summer's mission crusade with the returned Pastor Spratt. As Jeanette and her mother discuss the crusade, Jeanette's mother explains that she married Jeanette's father because he was a good man and a believer, which she needed after her debacle with Pierre. Jeanette's mother brings out an old photo album with a page called "Old Flames." Jeanette sees a photo of Pierre, some other men, and also a woman near the bottom. When asked, Jeanette's mother says that the woman was one of her boyfriend's sisters. The mother later removes the photo from the page. Jeanette's mother's family cut her off after she married Jeanette's father, because of his low birth, so that Jeanette's mother since had made the church her entire family.

Jeanette finds that other students and even the teachers ostracize her at school. Her teacher criticizes her essay about her summer religious crusade. In needlepoint class, her teacher tries hard to dissuade Jeanette from printing, "The summer is ended and we are not yet saved." Eventually, Mrs. Vole, the headmistress, and Mrs. Virtue tell Jeanette that she is too pre-occupied with God. Parents have complained that Jeanette's stories of hell have given their children nightmares. Mrs. Vole sends a letter to Jeanette's mother describing Jeanette's excessive religiosity. The report pleases Jeanette's mother so much that she takes Jeanette to the movies.

As time goes on, Jeanette still fails to garner any acknowledgement in school. She eventually gives up biblical themes and, with Elsie's help, designs an egg starring a Wagner opera. But, even as Jeanette changes the tone in her crafts, her teachers ignore her. Jeanette's efforts only upset her mother who would prefer that she stuck to biblical themes.

One day, Jeanette tries to visualize the pillar of cloud that protected the Hebrews when they fled Egypt but she cannot figure out what it would look like. She then thinks about the mathematical concept of a tetrahedron and tells a fable. Tetrahedron becomes an emperor who lived in a pliable palace built from elastic bands. His people loved him greatly. Isosceles was his foul enemy. Tetrahedron's people bring gifts daily to his castle. One day a woman brings the emperor a revolving circus operated by midgets. The midgets act out many tragedies and comedies simultaneously, but the emperor can see them all because he had five heads. After watching he concludes that no emotion is the final one.

Analysis

The biblical book of Exodus contains the story of the flight of the people of Israel from Egypt. The Exodus chapter in Oranges deals with similar themes of flight. On the most obvious level, Jeanette is finally able to flee the physical and ideological confines of her small home. By heading to school, Jeanette becomes exposed to ideas that are not those of her mother's. The opening scene of this chapter shows that Jeanette may not always keep with her mother's ideas. While her mother shuns the radio for discussing the biology of snails, Jeanette thinks up a funny ditty about Mr. and Mrs. Snail and decides that her mother is not seeing clearly. Jeanette's belief that her mother could be partially incorrect on this, her first day of school, foreshadows Jeanette's eventual ideological separation from her mother.

The story of Jeanette's deafness concerns one of the first phases of Jeanette's exodus. Jeanette has physically become deaf, yet her mother and the other members of the congregation are blind to her hearing loss. Only Miss Jewsbury, who is considered unholy by the other members of the church, recognizes what is truly happening. Because they fail to clearly see, Jeanette's church and congregation fail her for the first time. Ironically, if not for the insight of a supposedly "unholy" woman, Jeanette would remain deaf. In many ways, this chapter depicts Jeanette's mother as a hypocrite. She feels happy when Jeanette appears in a state of rapture, but indifferent when Jeanette's rapture is diagnosed as a physical ailment. The neglect practiced by Jeanette's mother shows that she is more interested in appearing very Christian by helping the church than sincerely acting that way by comforting her sick seven year old. Jeanette's mother's indifference to her daughter foreshadows Jeanette's future rejection. In this chapter, Winterson's mother offers her comfort only by leaving her with oranges. These oranges symbolize the dominant rhetoric that Winterson's mother embraces.

While Jeanette's isolation from her mother reflects her mother's indifference, it ultimately has very positive effects. Just as the Bible has prophets, so too does Elsie Norris arrive like a prophet. Elsie exposes Jeanette to a universe that Jeanette has never known. Elsie introduces Jeanette to the world of literature and in this world that of imagination. By quoting Yeats, Swinburne, Blake, and Rossetti, Elsie acknowledges, unlike Jeanette's mother, that one can read texts aside from the Bible and Jane Eyre. When Jeanette goes to Elsie's house, she sees that Elsie has lived outside of their small English environment. Elsie bought her special dice in Mecca, a "Heathen" location that Jeanette's mother would certainly never visit. Pictures of Florence Nightingale, Clive of India, and Sir Isaac Newton hang on Elsie's wall. Elsie forcefully begs Jeanette to listen to her internal self as well as seeing the external world. Jeanette does not yet understand, but starting with this chapter her imagination will continue to flourish. By its end, Jeanette's imagination has grown such that she constructs a fantastic tale based upon two shapes she learned in mathematics: Tetrahedron and Isosceles. Tetrahedron's final discovery that no emotion is the final one again represents a lesson that Jeanette is learning in her own life. In other words, the emotion that Jeanette felt in the first chapter, safety and sanctity in her home and beliefs, is beginning to change as new emotions become unveiled.

While Jeanette's internal self may be growing, her life at school highlights the fact that from a very young age she was regarded as different. Originally, this difference started because of her evangelical Christianity, but it also foreshadows her transformation into a lesbian, since as a lesbian she will not fit into the normal dualistic, heterosexual world. Even as Jeanette tries to gain acceptance by turning from her biblical themes, she remains separate. A few other references to Jeanette's future homosexuality exist in this chapter. First is the inclusion of a woman on Jeanette's mother's "Old Flames" page. The eventual disappearance of this woman from the page suggests that Jeanette's mother may have experienced same sex romantic love at one point, which she now seeks to hide, yet another form of her hypocrisy. Finally, the poem that Elsie quotes in the hospital about things falling, rebuilding themselves, and becoming gay closely mirrors what will happen in her life. Furthermore, Rossetti's "The Goblin Market" is a poem containing several lesbian images.

More Help

Previous Next

Readers' Notes allow users to add their own analysis and insights to our SparkNotes—and to discuss those ideas with one another. Have a novel take or think we left something out? Add a Readers' Note!

Follow Us