Oranges are Not the Only Fruit
Chapter 4: Numbers
Jeanette has a recurring dream that she is getting married in a white dress with a golden crown. As she walks up the aisle, she finds that he crown is growing heavier and heavier. When she reaches her future husband, she finds that he either has become blind, a pig, is a suit with nothing inside, or is her mother.
Jeanette's dream makes her think about relationships between men and women. Jeanette begins to worry if there are any men who are not pigs out there. She considers the example of "Beauty and the Beast" and wonders if all men turn into princes on their wedding night, as in the fable. Jeanette consults her aunt, but her aunt just tells her to get a boyfriend. When Jeanette approaches her mother, her mother offers her an orange and refers to her favorite book, Jane Eyre. As a child, Jeanette heard Jane Eyre again and again, but Jeanette's mother always changed the ending so that Jane married St. John Rivers and they went off on a mission together. Jeanette reflects that she has since read the real version of Jane Eyre. The ending shocked her so much that it reminded her of the day that she found her adoption papers while looking for a pack of playing cards. Since that time, she has never read Jane Eyre again and never played cards.
Jeanette later decides to just worry about love when it happens to her sometime. Then she says that one day, it did.
Jeanette and her mother head to town on the bus where they run into Auntie May and Ida, one of the lesbian women who run the paper shop. Jeanette's mother is civil to Ida and they all agree to meet up later. Jeanette and her mother go to the butcher shop. Inside, Jeanette tears her raincoat on a meat hook. Jeanette's mother then buys her a huge and hideous pink coat from a nearby shop. Jeanette is horrified.
Despite her horror, Jeanette feels suddenly mollified upon seeing a nice looking girl who is boning a kipper at a fish stand. She is Melanie. Jeanette approaches Melanie, but Melanie cannot talk. When Jeanette tries again, Melanie is gone. Jeanette and her mother meet Auntie May and Ida at an ice cream shop. The waitress offers Jeanette a Saturday job washing dishes, which Jeanette accepts.
Jeanette uses her Saturdays from then on to go to work but also to spy on Melanie. One day Melanie is not at her stand and Jeanette feels distressed. Later she runs into Melanie in the street and learns that Melanie has gotten a new job at the library. The two girls talk. Melanie agrees to come visit Jeanette's church.
The pastor unleashes a fiery sermon during Melanie's first visit to the church. Jeanette thinks Melanie is uncomfortable, but then Melanie raises her hand and asks to be saved. As the community then accepts Melanie, Jeanette is able to frequently stop at Melanie's house for Bible study. Jeanette grows obsessed by her friendship with Melanie and talks about her constantly. Her mother responds by suggesting that Jeanette is keen on Graham, a new teenage convert at their church. Jeanette's mother then tells Jeanette the story of Pierre.
Jeanette's mother met Pierre when she was teaching in Paris. Pierre wooed her with flattery. Partly because Jeanette's mother felt tingly inside when being with him, which she assumed was love, and she agreed to spend the night with him. Soon after Jeanette's mother experienced stomach pains and visited the doctor. The doctor explained that she had a stomach ulcer. Jeanette's mother realized that her romantic feeling truly was a physical ailment. Jeanette's mother did not have a baby from the relation. Jeanette's mother warns Jeanette to never let anyone touch her "down there."
Jeanette flees that night to Melanie's house and brings her some flowers. They sleep together for the first time. After that night, Melanie and Jeanette spend all their time together. Jeanette asks if they are experiencing an "unnatural passion," but Melanie does not think so. Jeanette feels happy because she loves Melanie and loves her church and they are all one community.
The narrative shifts to an unrelated fantasy. A group of "elect" men and women feasts in a castle during the winter. They talk about how to best eat goose. These elect have always lived this way—getting old, dying, starting again, and not noticing. The narrator repeats: "Father and Son, Father and son, and Holy Ghost." Rebels soldiers from outside attack the palace.
The Biblical book of Numbers gets its name from the "numbering" of the Hebrew that was undertaken when they escaped from Egypt, where they had been slaves. The largest thematic concern in this chapter is that of romance. The notion of romance has been slowly brewing throughout the novel with occasional references to Pierre, Jeanette's mother's love. Here the issue of romance turns into a quest. Jeanette spends the opening sections of the chapter carefully investigating the quality of men in the world and assessing whether there will be any benefit in a heterosexual relationship. As Jeanette herself considers the issue, Winterson is also describing many women's perspectives on the marital state. This attention to women's perspectives carries a feminist subtext.
The lesbian bookstore owner Ida appears in this chapter for the first time. Her placement is telling since it comes on the day that Jeanette sees Melanie. Ida's presence seems to give comfort to Jeanette's latent feelings. Jeanette's mother is cold toward Ida, but her close friend May is perfectly friendly with her. Again, the different treatment that May and Jeanette's mother give Ida illustrates that Jeanette's mother stands alone with her unbending perspectives on good and evil in the world. It also again foreshadows the cold manner in which Jeanette's mother will treat Jeanette in the future. With her story of Pierre, Jeanette's mother evokes a time when she once felt passion and followed her intuition. Jeanette's mother, however, turned away from her open emotion for Pierre and retreated from her romantic calling. Later with her religious conversion, Jeanette's mother's disdain for following one's intuition calcifies. Ironically, although she told her story to give Jeanette an example of what to do, Jeanette actually will choose the opposite route.
Jeanette's love for Melanie develops easily and openly. Winterson's depiction shows Jeanette's love to be simply natural process that has no appearance of sinfulness often associated with such love affairs. The purity of their affection stands in contrast with the rigid regulations of the church.
The form of the chapter continues to flow as a stream of consciousness remembrance. There have been few indications of how quickly time moves in the novel, but we are aware that Jeanette is getting older. The fact that she is now able to work indicates that she has reached her teenage years. The final fantastical section of the chapter testifies to the change that has taken place with Jeanette loving Melanie. The described castle houses men and women who live their lives eating and drinking just as the men and women who came before them did. Nothing ever seems changes in this world. Suddenly, however, rebels are about to storm the palace. The rebels represent Jeanette's divergent views on sexuality attacking her handed down assumption of the status quo. As Jeanette's love for Melanie develops, she will no longer just become one of the masses who chooses to sit in the freezing castle discussing the same thing day after day. Her life has changed and a revolution is starting.
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