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Oranges are Not the Only Fruit

Jeanette Winterson

Chapter 3: Leviticus

Chapter 2: Exodus

Chapter 4: Numbers

Summary

Jeanette's mother is preoccupied with unsaved souls, which she refers to as the "Heathen," particularly with their neighbors, referred to as "Next Door." One Sunday, Jeanette, her mother, and her mother's friend, Mrs. White, return home after communion. Once inside, they hear strange cries from next door. Jeanette's mother looks horrified and declares that the neighbors are fornicating. Mrs. White asks for a wine glass, which Jeanette's mother claims to have for medicinal purposes, to better listen at the wall. The adults send Jeanette out for ice cream so she will not hear the unholy sounds. Jeanette thinks to herself that she does not know what fornication is or why it is so loud, but she knows that it is a sin.

After Jeanette returns, all three women sing a hymn for the benefit of Next Door. The neighbors react by banging on the walls and pipes. Their dismay pleases Jeanette's mother so much that they sing the second verse even louder. A young male neighbor rushes into their backyard to yell at them and Jeanette's mother responds by happily chastising him with scripture.

Jeanette's mother has long helped to convert others. One day soon after she was saved, a neighboring pastor asked her to become the treasurer for their religious community, the Society of the Lost. Jeanette's mother accepted and soon doubled membership in the society. The previous treasurer left because she was opening a guesthouse for the bereaved in nearby Morecambe. Jeanette and her mother visit there several times. On several occasions, Jeanette meets a friend of her mother's there who arranges wreaths for the death. On one occasion, Jeanette helps this woman with the flowers and gets on well with her. Jeanette then states that she will work with this woman again in the future.

One Sunday, a big society meeting is held in Jeanette's town. When the sermon begins, Jeanette finds that she develops her first theological disagreement. The sermon concerns perfection, which the pastor professes was man's condition before his fall. As she listens, Jeanette's narrative slips away into another fantastical story separate from her own world.

A prince longs for a wife and heads out with his faithful companion, an old goose. The prince is searching for a woman who is perfect. After three years of searching, no such perfect woman has been found. The goose tells the prince that the prince is looking for something that he will never find because it does not exist— a perfect woman. The prince responds by cutting off the goose's head.

After three more years of the search, the prince writes a book called The Holy Mystery of Perfection and presents it to his advisors. One day, the sounds of a beautiful melody lead him to a house outside of which stands the most beautiful woman that he has ever seen. The prince decides she is perfect. The woman, however, initially refuses to speak to him and later refuses to marry him. The prince gives the woman a copy of his book, but she simply frowns and takes him into her house. After three days, the prince re-emerges. The woman has explained to the prince that the nature of perfection derives not from flawlessness, but from a symmetrical balance of the different parts of one's character. The prince admits to his advisors that his old opinion was incorrect, therefore he should write a new book and apologize for killing the goose. The prince's advisors, however, insist that the prince can do no such thing because a prince is never wrong. One advisor and the prince resolve on a different solution.

The next day the prince gathers the community outside of the perfect woman's house. He then proceeds to analyze and criticize her perspectives on perfection as if they were heretical. When she defends herself, the prince orders her beheaded. The blood from her body forms a lake that drowns the advisors and most of the court. Only the prince manages to survive by climbing a tree. A man then comes along and offers the prince oranges. The prince buys a dozen and asks if the old man has anything to read. The old man pulls out a book that describes the construction of a perfect person, a man who has a bolt through his neck—and the prince snatches it away.

Analysis

The biblical book of Leviticus contains rules and laws handed down from Moses to the Israelites. Likewise, this chapter outlines some of the laws Jeanette's mother has passed down to her. The opening sequence concerning fornication by the neighbors illustrates Jeanette's mother's disdain for sin. Winterson writes this scene with significant comic effect. While Jeanette's mother hollers that the neighbors are being unholy, Mrs. White procures a wine glass so to better listen to exactly what is happening next door. The mere presence of the wine glass in Jeanette's home appears hypocritical, since her mother deplores the consumption of alcohol. Jeanette's mother insists that the wine glass is for medicinal purposes, but this explanation seems suspect. Jeanette's mother's argument with the neighbors indicates the satisfaction that she receives from fighting with other people. As the chapter details the mother's success at gathering members of the Society for the Lost, one has to wonder if she is truly concerned with the salvation of others or if she simply uses her position for self-promotion and aggrandizement. Her hypocrisy already has been suggested in Chapter two when Jeanette's mother neglected her sick daughter in order to run errands for the church.

The most significant event in this chapter is Jeanette's recognition that she disagrees with something the pastor has said. This disagreement with the leaders of the church is just the first of several others that will unfold. Her specific disagreement with the issue of "perfection" additionally is telling because it foreshadows her inability to be the perfect person that her mother and community expect.

The way that Jeanette copes with her theological disagreement is by creating a complicated comical myth about it. We have already seen Jeanette's tendency to retreat to her imagination when questioning things in Chapter One (with the story of the princess and the hunchback) and Chapter Two (with the story of Emperor Tetrahedron). Jeanette creates these stories to either explain or understand her own existence. In this case, however, Jeanette's story takes up a full half of the chapter, as long as the portion describing her life. The tale also is much more comedic than previously seen. The story assumes the traditional characters and tone of a myth. The key elements include a prince, a kingdom, and a quest. The mythic tone uses an anonymous narrator, nameless characters, and events that usually happen in stages of threes. Although the story contains myth like qualities, the events within it diverge from common mythical actions. For example, the prince writes a lengthy philosophical study on the issue of perfection, not a common mythical act. The maiden, who would traditionally be happily carried to the castle, refuses to marry the prince. Furthermore, the maiden is smarter and wiser than the prince. The wisdom and independent zest of the maiden add a feminist twist that contradicts the common heterosexual end to a mythic tale. At the end of the story, an old man gives the prince some oranges, but also gives him a novel that obviously is Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, since it concerns the creation of a perfect person who ends up being a man with a bolt through his neck. Winterson's reference to Frankenstein provides an extratextual comment upon the pastor's narrative. While Jeanette's somewhat silly story about the prince debunks the pastor's idea of perfection, Frankenstein does so in a much more sophisticated way. By evoking the idea of this novel, Winterson suggests that sophisticated products of the imagination, such as novels, have long been responding to and answering similar questions.

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