Oranges are Not the Only Fruit
Chapter 8: Ruth
Winnet Stonejar lives alone in a magical kingdom. One day a sorcerer tricks her into becoming his apprentice. Winnet stays with the sorcerer for so many years she actually believes that the sorcerer is her father. Later, Winnet meets a strange boy in the kingdom and invites him to one of the feasts at their castle. At the feast, Winnet's father grows angry with the boy. He calls him "a blight" and locks him up. Winnet frees him. Later the sorcerer orders Winnet to leave the village or become a goatherd for her crime. If she leaves, the sorcerer warns, he will also take her powers. Jeanette does not know what to do, but one of the ravens tells her that the sorcerer is lying because he cannot take her powers. The raven cannot go with her, but coughs up his heart for her to take. It is a brown stone pebble. She heads into the forest.
The story returns to Jeanette. She has moved to Morecombe to work with the woman who makes funeral wreaths. Jeanette also works as an ice cream truck driver. One day, she passes Elsie's house and sees a large crowd. She goes inside and discovers that Elsie has died. Her mother, the pastor, and Mrs. White are there and are unfriendly to Jeanette and tell her to leave. Jeanette grows upset and continues selling her ice cream to the people outside.
The narrative returns to the tale of Winnet who has collapsed after wandering in the forest. A woman takes her to a nearby village. The villages think that the sorcerer is mad, so Winnet conceals her past and her powers. She tries to learn their language, but still perceives that she is an outsider in their midst. One day Winnet hears about a beautiful city far off that is guarded by tigers. No one from the village has ever been there, but Winnet decides that she is going to try and go despite the skepticism of the others.
Jeanette learns that Elsie's casket recently has arrived at the funeral home. Jeanette takes special care of Elsie and sits up with her all night. On the day of the funeral, one of the workers is ill so Jeanette has to serve the food, despite her conflict with the church. She manages to stay out of the way until she serves dessert. When her mother and old friends see her, they are repulsed. They leave angrily. Miss Jewsbury appears however and invites Jeanette to her house. Jeanette refuses to go. Jeanette gets a job working in a mental hospital.
Winnet finds a map with the city on it and sees that the city is in the center of a river. She must get a boat to get there. She studies boat builders to learn their trade. One night, Winnet dreams that her eyebrows form two bridges that lead to a hole between her eyes. The hole opens upon a spiral staircase that runs down to her stomach. She knows that she must go inside herself to understand her difference. Upon waking, Winnet decides to get a boat and leave for the city; she knows that she will not return from whence she came.
Jeanette now is in the city. Someone asks her when she last saw her mother. Jeanette contemplates the way that coming to city allowed her to escape her past. She wonders if she will ever be able to return. She thinks that if she had just stayed and read the law as it was written, she would have become a priest. But instead she has become a prophet. Prophets make their own texts from uncertain meanings and are often rejected by their people.
Jeanette takes a slow train trip through winter snow to her old village. When she gets home, the reunion with her mother is not eventful. Her mother informs her of certain corruption at the Society for the Lost that almost ruined them. The secretary embezzled money to support his mistress; and the guesthouse for the bereaved has been condemned for bad hygiene. They do not discuss Jeanette's life.
Sir Perceval arrives at a glorious castle. His host shows him to an oaken room where Perceval rests. Perceval laments his separation from Arthur and he remembers Arthur's sadness upon their separation. Perceval falls asleep and dreams of a sunbeam cracking into his castle room. He sees the Holy Grail enter the hallway. When he awakes, he realizes that had a vision of perfect peace. He now longs to grow herbs.
Jeanette explores her old town. She thinks about how her mother treats her like nothing has ever changed. Jeanette sees that her self contains who she is now and the evangelist that she once was. Standing on the hill over looking the town, Jeanette thinks about God. She knows that she still loves God but not those people who claim to be their servants. She sees Melanie's house and remembers that she has seen Melanie in the city. Melanie was pregnant and already had one baby. Melanie acted like nothing significant had ever happened between them. Melanie and Jeanette's mother had recently worked together with the church. They prepared many dishes with pineapple for converts of African descent because they thought they would like tropical fruit. Jeanette's mother decides that oranges are not the only fruit anymore. When Jeanette goes home, she sees that her mother listening to the World Service on a new CB radio.
Perceval ate dinner with his host and then sat at the dining table for a long time alone. Perceval finds that he has two hands—one curious, sure, and firm; the other gentle, and thoughtful. Perceval wonders if his journey has been fruitless or misguided. He falls asleep and dreams that he is a spider hanging from an oak. A raven flies through his thread and he falls to the ground, running away.
Jeanette stays with her mother through Christmas. On Christmas Eve, Mrs. White comes over but Jeanette's presence upsets her so much that Mrs. White can barely breathe. After Christmas, they discover that the owner of the Morecambe guesthouse has been practicing voodoo on her guests. Jeanette's mother eases her distress over this news by reaching for her CB radio and listening to the World Service.
The Biblical Book of Ruth deals with the issue of exile and also deals with attachment between a daughter and surrogate mother, both themes of this book. Its main character, Ruth, is a Moab but marries into the Hebrew. After her husband's death she choose to stay in Israel with her mother-in-law, Naomi. The Book of Ruth challenges the prejudice against foreigners that was common in Israel at the time. This issue of exile obviously relates to Jeanette's homosexuality. The territory of England and the world is heterosexual territory. With her sexual identity, Jeanette is a stranger in her own land. Now that Jeanette has been cast out of her home, she is double over a stranger since her evangelical background separates from society in addition to her homosexuality. Jeanette too will face the prejudice that Ruth once did.
The difficulties that Jeanette now faces and her pain at being ostracized lead her to retell her story as myth. Winnet Stonejar obviously represents Jeanette in a magical world; her name is basically Jeanette Winterson respelled. The events in her Winnet's tale mirror those in Jeanette's: she is adopted, cast out, wanders, and finally becomes a city dweller. The key difference between the Jeanette and the Winnet story is the genders of the main characters. In Winnet's world, a male sorcerer plays the role of Jeanette's mother; additionally, Winnet is evicted for being romantically involved with a male, not a female. This inversion of genders relates again to Winterson's attempt to debunk the notion that gender exists as a fixed phenomenon. Furthermore, this switching of genders makes Jeanette's experience more universal. One might view Jeanette's rejection as a unique experience because she is gay, but actually many children have been similarly ousted because of a poorly chosen romance. Winterson's tale testifies to the many children whose true inclinations have met with parental rejection.
The structure of this chapter is highly fragmented with incredibly long imaginative sequences. The story of Winnet then the story Perceval actually take up more narrative space that the details about Jeanette's so-called reality. This heavy emphasis upon myth shows that she has retreated into her imagination. Additionally, by discussing her exile in the semi-comedic world of Winnet, Jeanette attempts to cloak the extraordinary pain she felt at that time of her life. Her efforts do not entirely work. The tone of this entire chapter is very serious and mostly melancholy. Glib comments occasionally appear, but the cruel disgust shown to her from her former church family clearly depresses her mood. Her sadness and frustrations makes time moves inconsistently. Concrete details about her early work appear, but then she suddenly lives in the city with no explanation for how she got there. Additionally, there is no indication of how much time passes between the start of the chapter and its conclusion. One gets the impression that large segments of these days have been skipped over because they were just filled with Jeanette's depression. The lengthy insertions of the Perceval and Winnet stories counteract the scarcity of facts about Jeanette's life.
The Perceval story appears toward the end of the chapter and again parallels Jeanette's own journey. Both Perceval and Jeanette have grown tired in their quests, both miss the comfort that they once had, but they also have achieved increased peace. The focus on Perceval's hands during one of his sections indicates that the power of creating the self lies in each individual's hands. For Jeanette, her hands and her imagination have been fundamental in finding herself. Through the act of writing and telling her own story Jeanette is able to liberate herself. Jeanette feels that she is a prophet who still is continuing the mythic quest that she started as a child. Unlike a missionary or a priest, however, Jeanette will not simply repeat the law as it is written, but she will rewrite it herself. Her task is far from over.
The small reconciliation between mother and daughter at the end of the chapter recalls the biblical theme of the connection between Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi. To some extent, Jeanette and her mother have bridged their gap, but not entirely. Jeanette's mother has changed and now sees that oranges are not the only fruit. Jeanette's return home allows her to understand that she is both her past and present. It also gives her a profound perspective on the difference between God and those who claim to be his servants. In a typical postmodern defiance of binaries, Winterson ends the story with neither a happy nor sad mood. Things between Jeanette and her mother are not all good, nor are they all bad. Jeanette still stands in the gray area between binaries with the rest of the world, as she looks toward the future.
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