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Oranges are Not the Only Fruit

Jeanette Winterson

Chapter 7: Judges

Chapter 6: Joshua

Chapter 8: Ruth

Summary

A quote from the Queen in Alice in Wonderland precedes all events in the chapter, "Now I give you fair warning, either you or your head must be off."

Jeanette's mother has told her to move out of her house because of her evilness. Jeanette wonders why loving the wrong sort of people is a sin. People say that Jeanette is imitating a man, but Jeanette does not think so. She remembers a time when a male couple came to the church. Her mother suggested that one of them should have been a woman. Jeanette thinks that this is ridiculous since a man is a man and a woman is a woman. Jeanette knows that she still loves God and her church, but will no longer become a missionary.

The narrative switches to the myth of Sir Perceval. He has left the comfort of King Arthur's court to find the Holy Grail. King Arthur misses him. The round tale at Camelot has a tree growing from its center, but the table is empty. The light from the halls of the castle appears gone.

Katy and Jeanette go away to Morecambe and stay at the Guest House for the Bereaved, even though they are not actually grieving. They carelessly leave their door ajar one night. Someone spies them through the door. The next day the owner of the Guest House, the former treasurer for the Society, questions Jeanette. Jeanette lies and says that her old friend Melanie had been in her room last night. The woman believes Jeanette and does not blame Katy. The woman posts a letter to Jeanette's mother and Jeanette leaves the next morning.

Jeanette's mother is furious when she gets home. She calls the pastor who arrives and proclaims that the demons have returned sevenfold. Jeanette sees oranges by the windowsill and offers them to her mother and the pastor, both of whom decide that she is raving with her evil demonology.

The pastor and the church decide that Jeanette has experienced sexual confusion because her many church responsibilities made her believe that she belonged in a man's role. The pastor notes that Saint Paul believed women who have a limited role in the church. The pastor orders that Jeanette give up teaching Sunday school and preaching.

The legend of Sir Perceval returns. He is riding toward a chapel and is tired and hungry. The night before, Sir Perceval dreamed of the Holy Grail on a shaft of sunlight, but as he reached for it he found that he was grabbing at thorns. After falling sleep on the steps of the chapel, he dreams about Arthur and his court. Upon waking he finds only his eyes full of tears and ivy in his face.

Jeanette, her mother, and the pastor are drinking tea. Jeanette tells them that she is quitting the church. The pastor and her mother are shocked. They offer her Bible class back, under supervision, but Jeanette will not change her mind. Jeanette additionally refuses to repent. Jeanette's mother tells her to move out so that she can be with the devil. Jeanette decides to move out of the house on Thursday. She will not tell her mother where she is going, but she plans to work nights and weekends. She says that she would do anything that she could, except sell oranges. Her last morning at home, she gathers her belongings and leaves. Jeanette finds this day to be just like any other.

Analysis

The biblical chapter of Judges documents a time in the history of Israel when several different leaders ran the country, not always with great success. During those years, Israel lacked a central letter for all of the tribes. For Jeanette, this chapter also describes multiple judges that rule over her life, which has become increasingly fragmented. While her internal territory used to be clearly governed by the church, no one ideology dominates her at this time. Although Jeanette remains in the church, she also allows her lesbian desires to blossom in her affair with Katy. Jeanette still does not see any sort of contradiction in her loving both the church and Katy. While Jeanette's internal self stands divided between these realms, a growing number of external judges surround her. The congregation, the pastor, and her mother all indicate that she is doing something wrong.

Jeanette's homosexuality also challenges the binary system of good and evil that she learned from her mother. In a strict division of good and evil, Jeanette should now be evil because she has become a lesbian. Jeanette, however, certainly does not seem like a bad person even though the church thinks her possessed by demons. Since she can no longer be seen as good, but is not truly evil, she stands in a gray area between the binaries. The church's blind condemnation of Jeanette solely for her sexual inclination seems silly. Winterson depicts no rational reason for why Jeanette cannot still love God, which she does, while also loving Katy. Winterson's calm depiction of the cruel way that the church rejects Jeanette forces the reader to question widespread and irrational prejudice against homosexuals. Winterson also outlines the sexist history of the church in the pastor's assertion that Jeanette's confusion arose because she acted beyond her gender's limitations. The pastor's position arises from a strongly sexist belief that women are biologically inferior to men. In the context of Oranges such as sexist notion seems ridiculous because Jeanette appears to be one of the most rational members of her church, who is able to manage conflicts during their crusade while also preaching the gospel. With this exposure, Winterson condemns such sexist and homophobic rhetoric. At the same time, this chapter touches on the larger theme of how a formed religion reflects the regulations decreed by its followers and is not necessarily consistent with the idea of a pure love for God. While Jeanette maintains devout faithfulness, she has also been cast out.

In addition to challenging the idea that women are biologically inferior, Winterson uses this chapter to challenge the idea that men and women have set biological roles, or that they exist in a biological binary. Jeanette's mother says that she is "aping a man" and suggests that one of the men in a gay couple should be a woman. For Jeanette, however, a woman is a woman and a man is a man. Jeanette sees the idea of gender as one that is socially constructed. In other words, Winterson feels that there is not a clear biological role for men and women, but that they act instead as society decrees that they should. Winterson's ideas on the social construction of gender are consistent with those in post-modern feminism and gender studies, such as the philosophies of Julia Kristeva. They are also considered "anti-essentialist," which means that they are against the idea that people have a true "essence" that defines their gender.

Jeanette's changing world appears further fragmented by the myth of Sir Perceval that regularly appears in this chapter. Sir Perceval's quest parallels Jeanette's own. Sir Perceval searches for the Holy Grail, the chalice that caught the blood of Christ. At the beginning of the novel, Jeanette appeared to be a Christ like mythic figure, but in this chapter she realizes that she will not become a missionary. Her mythic quest will still take place but will not involve the blind dissemination of her church's religion. The story about Perceval foreshadows Jeanette's ostracization and isolation. It also foreshadows her future pain and suffering. Perceval once thrived in the golden light of Camelot, just as Jeanette once reveled in the warmth of her religious home. But Perceval cannot find the Grail if he stays in the castle, just as Jeanette cannot find her true self if she stays at home. Her mother like the Queen from Alice in Wonderland who opens this chapter wants to cut off either her head or her self. Jeanette must chose to be physically cut off and work through future trials and tribulations so that her ultimate quest can be fulfilled. On a final note, we should observe that while the tale of Perceval and Jeanette contain many similarities, Winterson comments upon gender by inverting it. While King Arthur in part represents Jeanette's mother, he is a man. These inverted genders further comment upon the changeable nature of gender.

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