12.04.2007

Winterson's Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit

Jeannette Winterson's first novel illustrates one girl's emergence from a troubled home. The main character, Jeannette, has a mother with a Jesus complex, and Jeannette grows up believing that school is the place for heathen and deafness could easily be the Rapture. The story grips and entertains, but the style and narrative structure prompted the most interest for me.

Jeannette learns to read by reading the bible, yet bible stories are not overt in her first-person tale, though the chapters are named after books of the bible. Rather, she creates a mythical world of her own to make sense of the strange reality she lives in. As she grows older and realizes that the girls are more attractive than the boys, she becomes more and more isolated from the fictive world her mother has created around her. The bible can no longer answer her questions, and the people who used to provide guidance and safety are estranged from her. However, the 'real' world of school and the streets doesn't make sense either, so Jeannette explains her existence through her own stories.

The inclusion of these tales creates a whimsical, fantastical quality, that, though bizarre, nonetheless provide clear, reasoned insight into her mother's behavior. Her mother's obsession with Godly perfection, which is alluded to in the title, is sifted through a story about a prince who wants a perfect princess. The princess has an unlikely ending, but Jeannette doesn't; she comes through the telling of the story rejuvenated, clearer, and in a better state to understand the emotional chaos of her mother's house. Her stories, just as the bible does for others, helps her to understand and except her world.

Ultimately, we as readers don't worry about Jeannette. The tone of the story stays light, at moments comical, but always accepting, never bitter, of her life with her mother. Her stories allow us to see Jeannette's coping mechanism. Like her mother, she turns to stories and things beyond our ken, but unlike her mother, she uses them to understand human kind rather than condemn it, to find peace with life's vicissitudes, rather than damn them.

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