Oranges are Not the Only Fruit

Summary

Chapter 2: Exodus

Summary Chapter 2: Exodus

As time goes on, Jeanette still fails to garner any acknowledgement in school. She eventually gives up biblical themes and, with Elsie's help, designs an egg starring a Wagner opera. But, even as Jeanette changes the tone in her crafts, her teachers ignore her. Jeanette's efforts only upset her mother who would prefer that she stuck to biblical themes.

One day, Jeanette tries to visualize the pillar of cloud that protected the Hebrews when they fled Egypt but she cannot figure out what it would look like. She then thinks about the mathematical concept of a tetrahedron and tells a fable. Tetrahedron becomes an emperor who lived in a pliable palace built from elastic bands. His people loved him greatly. Isosceles was his foul enemy. Tetrahedron's people bring gifts daily to his castle. One day a woman brings the emperor a revolving circus operated by midgets. The midgets act out many tragedies and comedies simultaneously, but the emperor can see them all because he had five heads. After watching he concludes that no emotion is the final one.

Analysis

The biblical book of Exodus contains the story of the flight of the people of Israel from Egypt. The Exodus chapter in Oranges deals with similar themes of flight. On the most obvious level, Jeanette is finally able to flee the physical and ideological confines of her small home. By heading to school, Jeanette becomes exposed to ideas that are not those of her mother's. The opening scene of this chapter shows that Jeanette may not always keep with her mother's ideas. While her mother shuns the radio for discussing the biology of snails, Jeanette thinks up a funny ditty about Mr. and Mrs. Snail and decides that her mother is not seeing clearly. Jeanette's belief that her mother could be partially incorrect on this, her first day of school, foreshadows Jeanette's eventual ideological separation from her mother.

The story of Jeanette's deafness concerns one of the first phases of Jeanette's exodus. Jeanette has physically become deaf, yet her mother and the other members of the congregation are blind to her hearing loss. Only Miss Jewsbury, who is considered unholy by the other members of the church, recognizes what is truly happening. Because they fail to clearly see, Jeanette's church and congregation fail her for the first time. Ironically, if not for the insight of a supposedly "unholy" woman, Jeanette would remain deaf. In many ways, this chapter depicts Jeanette's mother as a hypocrite. She feels happy when Jeanette appears in a state of rapture, but indifferent when Jeanette's rapture is diagnosed as a physical ailment. The neglect practiced by Jeanette's mother shows that she is more interested in appearing very Christian by helping the church than sincerely acting that way by comforting her sick seven year old. Jeanette's mother's indifference to her daughter foreshadows Jeanette's future rejection. In this chapter, Winterson's mother offers her comfort only by leaving her with oranges. These oranges symbolize the dominant rhetoric that Winterson's mother embraces.

While Jeanette's isolation from her mother reflects her mother's indifference, it ultimately has very positive effects. Just as the Bible has prophets, so too does Elsie Norris arrive like a prophet. Elsie exposes Jeanette to a universe that Jeanette has never known. Elsie introduces Jeanette to the world of literature and in this world that of imagination. By quoting Yeats, Swinburne, Blake, and Rossetti, Elsie acknowledges, unlike Jeanette's mother, that one can read texts aside from the Bible and Jane Eyre. When Jeanette goes to Elsie's house, she sees that Elsie has lived outside of their small English environment. Elsie bought her special dice in Mecca, a "Heathen" location that Jeanette's mother would certainly never visit. Pictures of Florence Nightingale, Clive of India, and Sir Isaac Newton hang on Elsie's wall. Elsie forcefully begs Jeanette to listen to her internal self as well as seeing the external world. Jeanette does not yet understand, but starting with this chapter her imagination will continue to flourish. By its end, Jeanette's imagination has grown such that she constructs a fantastic tale based upon two shapes she learned in mathematics: Tetrahedron and Isosceles. Tetrahedron's final discovery that no emotion is the final one again represents a lesson that Jeanette is learning in her own life. In other words, the emotion that Jeanette felt in the first chapter, safety and sanctity in her home and beliefs, is beginning to change as new emotions become unveiled.

While Jeanette's internal self may be growing, her life at school highlights the fact that from a very young age she was regarded as different. Originally, this difference started because of her evangelical Christianity, but it also foreshadows her transformation into a lesbian, since as a lesbian she will not fit into the normal dualistic, heterosexual world. Even as Jeanette tries to gain acceptance by turning from her biblical themes, she remains separate. A few other references to Jeanette's future homosexuality exist in this chapter. First is the inclusion of a woman on Jeanette's mother's "Old Flames" page. The eventual disappearance of this woman from the page suggests that Jeanette's mother may have experienced same sex romantic love at one point, which she now seeks to hide, yet another form of her hypocrisy. Finally, the poem that Elsie quotes in the hospital about things falling, rebuilding themselves, and becoming gay closely mirrors what will happen in her life. Furthermore, Rossetti's "The Goblin Market" is a poem containing several lesbian images.