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Jeanette, the single named narrator of the novel has lived for a long time with her mother and her father. Her mother is forceful woman who often seeks out conflict and who never sees the world with mixed feelings. For Jeanette's mother, the world contains enemies (the Devil, "Next Door," slugs, and sex) and friends (God, Auntie Madge, the novels of Charlotte Bronte, and slug pellets). Jeanette adds that she also fit into the category of friends, at first. Jeanette's mother shuns sex but wanted a child, so she sought a foundling by adopting Jeanette. Jeanette goes on to say that she could not recall a time when she did not know that she was special.
In her childhood, the family follows a standard routine on Sundays. Jeanette's mother wakes early and prays in the parlor until ten in the morning. After her mother quizzes Jeanette with a Bible question, they sit together listening to the World Service on the radio, a religious show. Jeanette takes notes on the successes and failures of the overseas missionaries for her mother's future report to their congregation.
In the afternoon, Jeanette and her mother usually take their dog for a walk. Jeanette remembers a time when she was walking through a more suspect part of town and a gypsy woman grabbed her hand. After studying her palm, the gypsy told Jeanette that she would never marry. Following this prediction, Jeanette thinks of two women she knows who are not married. Jeanette buys her comic at the paper shop they own and they often give her a free banana bar. Once the women offer to take her to the beach, but Jeanette's mother vehemently refuses and disallows Jeanette from ever returning to their store. Later Jeanette overhears her mother explain that the two women dealt in "unnatural passions." Jeanette does not understand what this means, but assumes that it has to do with the additives in their candies.
Jeanette's mother frequently tells Jeanette religious stories including that of her ownconversion. Jeanette's mother converted one night when she walked into the tent holding Pastor Spratt's Glory Crusade. Upon her conversion, the pastor gave her potted plant, a technique he learned as an advertising businessman.
The narrative then switches to a story about a beautiful princess who is so sensitive that the death of a moth could distress her for weeks. No one in the kingdom knows how to relieve her pain. One day, the princess finds an old hunchbacked woman in the forest. The hunchback asks the princess to take over her responsibilities that include milking goats, educating people, and composing songs for their festivals. The princess agrees, the old hunchback dies, and the princess never thinks of her worries again.
Jeanette then switches back to her life and describes her adoption in more detail. Her mother wanted to find a missionary child whom she could train to be a servant of God. Her mother followed a star that settled over her particular crib in her particular orphanage. Her mother took Jeanette and held her for seven days and seven nights as demons fought around them. Jeanette's mother tells her that the world is full of sin, but also urges her to change the world.
One Sunday when they return home, Jeanette's father is watching television. Jeanette's mother is furious because the television is not supposed to be used on Sunday. Later that evening, the family goes to church and there is a visiting preacher, Pastor Finch. Upon discovering that Jeanette is seven, Pastor Finch mentions that seven is a blessed number, but can also be an evil, devious number. As Pastor Finch excites the congregation by speaking of hellfire and damnation related to the number seven, Jeanette slips away to the Sunday school room. Jeannette plays with felt cutouts of Daniel and the lions. The pastor enters the room and admonishes Jeanette for depicting Daniel as being eaten by the lions instead of being safe. Jeanette offers some excuses and slips away.
On the way home from church, Jeanette think that it would be bad to be married to Pastor Finch. She then decides that if the gypsy's prediction comes true and Jeanette never marries, it might not be so bad. After they get home, Jeanette comments that her mother goes to bed at four in the morning and her father leaves for work at five in the morning.
Jeanette then describes her early education, which mostly consists of her mother teaching her the Bible. Jeanette's mother also tells her many other things about the world that are factually untrue, for example that it rains when clouds hit tall things like church steeples, which is why there is less rain in the "Heathen" countries. Jeanette asks her mother why she cannot go to school and Jeanette's mother warns that it is a "breeding ground." Jeanette also asks if she can learn French, but her mother says no since it was almost her mother's downfall due to a boy named Pierre. One day a letter arrives at the house, however, which states that Jeanette must go to school. Jeanette feels excited to head to this legendary breeding ground.
Winterson titles the eight chapters of her book after the first eight chapters of the Old Testament. Winterson's appropriation of these titles relates to her desire to illustrate the relativity and subjectivity of various texts. At the same time, the themes of Winterson's chapters roughly correspond with the themes of the biblical books. For example, the biblical book of Genesis describes the beginnings of the world, man, and the tribes of Israel. Likewise, Winterson's chapter also tells of Jeanette's beginnings, describing Jeanette, her placement in her family, and her unique family life.
Other religious references dominate this chapter. Winterson describes Jeanette's adoption with imagery and language from the New Testament. Jeanette's mother, who abhors sex, sees the adoption almost as an immaculate conception because she received a child without having sex. For this reason, Jeanette's mother was "bitter that Mary got there first." Just as Jeanette's mother can be compared to Mary since she acquired a child without having sex, so too does Winterson parallel Jeanette and Christ. The star that led her mother to Jeanette's crib corresponds with the star of Bethlehem that once led the Magi to the Messiah. After Jeanette's mother found her, Jeanette cried out for seven days and seven nights while being taunted by demons, much in the same way that Christ stood tempted by the Devil for the same time in the desert. Jeanette's mother confirms Jeanette's position as a Christ figure by convincing Jeanette that her destiny lies in changing the world. Because of her mother's propaganda, Jeanette herself reports that from a very young age she always knew that she was special. Ironically, this specialness most obviously relates to her future as a lesbian, a group often categorized as "special," rather than as a Christlike figure whom she may also become.
Winterson foreshadows Jeanette's future lesbianism, and thus the future plot movement, several times in this chapter. The gypsy woman's prediction that Jeanette will not marry will eventually turn out to be true. The two women who run the paper shop obviously are lesbians, although Jeanette doesn't understand this at the age of seven. The present that these women give Jeanette, a banana bar, ironically comments upon their, and Jeanette's future, sexually identity. The bar suggests their rejection of heterosexuality since it represents a phallic item, a banana, which has been physically transformed. The way that Jeanette's mother hostilely treats these lesbians additionally foreshadows the way that she later will reject Jeanette. The dualistic world that Jeanette's mother sees, with either enemies or friends, also foreshadows the difficulties that Jeanette will face. Her emerging lesbianism will place her in a gray space that does not exist for her mother. Eventually her mother will not know if Jeanette is clearly a friend or an enemy. This conflict over binary views of the world is central to post-modern ideology that seeks to unravel such dualisms.
The chapter exists in a not completely linear flashback. Jeanette describes a typical childhood Sunday chronologically, but jumps around without clear linkages to discuss her adoption or memories of her town, such as with the gypsy. The movement of the narrative seems to follow the stream of the narrator's consciousness as she remembers. Among the narrator's remembrances, there suddenly appears the fable about the princess and the hunchback. This story seems unrelated to Jeanette's world. It is the first of many mythical fantasies in the novel that will ultimately comment upon the shifty nature of narrative itself. A careful analysis of the princess/hunchback story reveals that it is actually a mythic retelling of what happens in Jeanette's world. The princess is so sensitive that she cannot function, but after the hunchback gives the princess something to occupy her hours the princess forgets her pain. Likewise, Jeanette finds something to save her from distress at a young age: her mother's religion. Winterson takes pains to show Jeanette's attachment to her home and its beliefs in this first chapter. Winterson's tone occasionally smiles at the mother's eclecticism, but it also openly depicts Jeanette's uncynical love for her mother. Jeanette feels snug and content at the age of seven in her home and is very open and attached to her mother without being judgmental. This chapter demonstrates Jeanette's admiration and love for her family—an emotion that will change and unravel in the later chapters.
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