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Oranges are Not the Only Fruit

Jeanette Winterson

Study Questions and Suggested Essay Topics

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Study Questions

When the novel begins Jeanette is seven and when it ends she is past her teens. In what way does she change throughout it?

Jeanette's recognition and acceptance of herself is her most profound change. At the beginning of the book, she completely mimicked her mother's interpretation of the world. As Jeanette grows to understand the world herself, she forms her own opinions. Initially these differing opinions pertain to small issues. As she comes to terms with her same sex love however, Jeanette is forced to question the church's entire explanation of God's rules. Jeanette loves God and she loves women and she sees no contradiction in this fact. The refusal of the church to see her point of view ultimately leads her to leave the church. On the surface, it seems that Jeanette has grown less religious but this assumption is not necessarily correct. Jeanette instead has learned to differentiate between her own sincere beliefs and, what she sees as, the misguided beliefs of others in the church. Jeanette feels the need to remain true to her self and in this way she manages to follow her ideal of God. Jeanette also changes during the novel in that she grows much more imaginative. By the end of the novel, she is on her way to become a writer and constantly summarizes the events in her life by speaking about them through the guise of made-up characters. Jeanette's ability to free her imagination relates to her increased sense of self. As she trusts her mind and her skills, she gives herself permission to retell her own story with the interpretation that she sees fit. Jeanette's willingness to interpret the world herself differs greatly from when she was a child and accepted the rhetoric of the church and her mother blindly. As a child Jeanette was destined to become a missionary, who is someone that repeats stories that have been told to them. Instead, Jeanette has become a prophet, who is someone that makes up new stories herself. Only through her realization of her self and growth of her imagination has this transformation been possible.

Many unrelated narratives appear in the novel. What purpose do they serve?

The unrelated narratives complement what is happening in Jeanette's life, or her emotions about a particular issue. For example, when Jeanette disagrees with the idea of perfection, she thinks up a lengthy story critiquing the idea of perfection itself. Likewise, when Jeanette is forced to leave her home, she describes her circumstances by telling the tale of Winnet Stonejar. The events in Winnet's life mirror those in Jeanette's but by telling them through a made- up fictional character Jeanette is able to depersonalize her circumstances. The unrelated narratives also demonstrate Jeanette's imaginative capacity. As she grows old, Jeanette's imagination becomes the place that she can run to when times get tough. Jeanette eventually will become the narrator of the novel and these small imaginative fantasies appear as her training for the ultimate task. On a wider level, the inclusion of unrelated narratives in the novel forces the reader to question the very nature of storytelling. The various stories thrust into the novel force one to question which ones have their basis in reality. The purpose of this questioning is to realize that no stories can ever be firmly fixed as fact. All stories, including histories, are relative truths, and all stories have been shaped by a teller.

Jeanette has a relationship with both Melanie and Katy. In what way do these two relationships differ and why?

Jeanette's differing perception of the significance of her relationship with Melanie and Katy makes up their main difference. When Jeanette falls in love with Melanie, Jeanette feels open and free. Melanie started as her best friend and eventually their relationship turned physical. Neither girl thought that they were experiencing what the church believed to be "unnatural passions." Jeanette's openness about her relationship pressed her to tell her mother about it, which in turn led to her condemnation. Jeanette has no idea that her interaction with Melanie makes her a lesbian or that this behavior is considered wrong; Jeanette solely is following her heart. The fact that the church thinks her actions are sinful comes as a total shock to her. On the other hand, by the time that Jeanette gets involved with Katy she is fully aware of what she is doing. She knows at that point that the church believes same sex love is wrong, but she chooses it anyway. Jeanette has come to terms with her lesbianism. She has accepted it as part of her identity. She has met the demon inside of her and she has decided not to force it out. Jeanette now has transformed herself into an intentional lover of women and she still does not think that it is wrong. Her consciousness during her love affair with Katy contrasts greatly with her more naïve liaison with Melanie.

Suggested Essay Topics

In what sense is Oranges an autobiographical novel?

Explain the meaning of the book's title.

Jeanette's mother announces at the end of the book that oranges are not the only fruit, contradicting her earlier position. In what way has she changed by the novel's end and why.

What effect does the exorcism performed on Jeanette have?

Jeanette appears to be an outcast in school. How does this foreshadow her future life?

Discuss the narrator's opinions on history as described in Chapter 5.

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