Oranges are Not the Only Fruit

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Summary

Chapter 3: Leviticus

Summary Chapter 3: Leviticus

The next day the prince gathers the community outside of the perfect woman's house. He then proceeds to analyze and criticize her perspectives on perfection as if they were heretical. When she defends herself, the prince orders her beheaded. The blood from her body forms a lake that drowns the advisors and most of the court. Only the prince manages to survive by climbing a tree. A man then comes along and offers the prince oranges. The prince buys a dozen and asks if the old man has anything to read. The old man pulls out a book that describes the construction of a perfect person, a man who has a bolt through his neck—and the prince snatches it away.

Analysis

The biblical book of Leviticus contains rules and laws handed down from Moses to the Israelites. Likewise, this chapter outlines some of the laws Jeanette's mother has passed down to her. The opening sequence concerning fornication by the neighbors illustrates Jeanette's mother's disdain for sin. Winterson writes this scene with significant comic effect. While Jeanette's mother hollers that the neighbors are being unholy, Mrs. White procures a wine glass so to better listen to exactly what is happening next door. The mere presence of the wine glass in Jeanette's home appears hypocritical, since her mother deplores the consumption of alcohol. Jeanette's mother insists that the wine glass is for medicinal purposes, but this explanation seems suspect. Jeanette's mother's argument with the neighbors indicates the satisfaction that she receives from fighting with other people. As the chapter details the mother's success at gathering members of the Society for the Lost, one has to wonder if she is truly concerned with the salvation of others or if she simply uses her position for self-promotion and aggrandizement. Her hypocrisy already has been suggested in Chapter two when Jeanette's mother neglected her sick daughter in order to run errands for the church.

The most significant event in this chapter is Jeanette's recognition that she disagrees with something the pastor has said. This disagreement with the leaders of the church is just the first of several others that will unfold. Her specific disagreement with the issue of "perfection" additionally is telling because it foreshadows her inability to be the perfect person that her mother and community expect.

The way that Jeanette copes with her theological disagreement is by creating a complicated comical myth about it. We have already seen Jeanette's tendency to retreat to her imagination when questioning things in Chapter One (with the story of the princess and the hunchback) and Chapter Two (with the story of Emperor Tetrahedron). Jeanette creates these stories to either explain or understand her own existence. In this case, however, Jeanette's story takes up a full half of the chapter, as long as the portion describing her life. The tale also is much more comedic than previously seen. The story assumes the traditional characters and tone of a myth. The key elements include a prince, a kingdom, and a quest. The mythic tone uses an anonymous narrator, nameless characters, and events that usually happen in stages of threes. Although the story contains myth like qualities, the events within it diverge from common mythical actions. For example, the prince writes a lengthy philosophical study on the issue of perfection, not a common mythical act. The maiden, who would traditionally be happily carried to the castle, refuses to marry the prince. Furthermore, the maiden is smarter and wiser than the prince. The wisdom and independent zest of the maiden add a feminist twist that contradicts the common heterosexual end to a mythic tale. At the end of the story, an old man gives the prince some oranges, but also gives him a novel that obviously is Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, since it concerns the creation of a perfect person who ends up being a man with a bolt through his neck. Winterson's reference to Frankenstein provides an extratextual comment upon the pastor's narrative. While Jeanette's somewhat silly story about the prince debunks the pastor's idea of perfection, Frankenstein does so in a much more sophisticated way. By evoking the idea of this novel, Winterson suggests that sophisticated products of the imagination, such as novels, have long been responding to and answering similar questions.