Oranges are Not the Only Fruit

by: Jeanette Winterson

Chapter 4: Numbers

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.

Analysis

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.