ORANGES ARE NOT THE ONLY FRUIT- A READING OF THE INTERTEXTUALITY

Jeanette Winterson’s novel Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit when published in 1985 as her first novel , it was unanimously regarded as “a realistic and heavily autobiographical comedy of ‘coming out’” (Onega ) in which the narrative structure employs elements derived from the Bildungsroman tradition -expression of  the heroine’s quest for individuation, as much as a feminist gesture of self-assertion, deployed in a hostile Pentecostal Evangelist environment. The story of young Jeanette, the character, clearly echoes the author’s own story: the protagonist falls in love with another girl, and has to fight her emotional way through the coercive norms of her religious community in the North of England. The novel was read in the light of the emerging “lesbian theories,” and the confrontational overtones of the author’s declarations about her sexual preferences certainly served to reinforce the political agenda of the text. This approach to the novel happened to dominate and supersedes any other , but beyond this reading approach it is remarkable to observe how the novel is structured as a chaotic system constituted by several layers of signifícation whose interaction creates infinite patterns of interpretation which plays with the postmodernist notions of identity, shaping up an postmodernist antitotalizing  narrative.

Postmodernist literature is characterized by distinctive features (among many others) such as the  radical loss of belief in and recurrent attempts to deconstruct both the traditional master narratives upon which Western thought is based and the idea of the “bourgeois individual subject” as aunified stable entity,”which is denounced by (Fredric Jameson and other analysts of postmodernism) as one of the most widespread artificial constructions of the patriarchal system, of realistic fiction and of the Western world view at large” (Onega) and , the struggle of social groups marginalized by the dominant “andró- (phallo-), hetero-, Euro-, ethno- centrisms” (Linda Hutcheon,) for a space in cultural expression and social recognition.

Within this context, Jeanette Winterson’s Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit  sets out to explore, redefine and reassert the notion of the individual subject from the position of its autodiegetic books of the Old Testament. As usual in much postmodernist writing, Winterson engages in a subversion of a master narrative through parody revision —she works from within the foundations of patriarchal thought that she intends to undermine by transforming them into the bases of her lesbian political manifesto.

One of the most explicit strategies for achieving this aim is the employment of postmodernist stylistic technique of intertextuallity. It manifest in the intertextual relationship between the Holy Bible and Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit and can be explored through a close scrutiny of the functions of the intertitles of the novel, and how biblical stories and the narrative of the novel establish a two-way dialog between each other.

It can be argued that Oranges is indeed a chaotic novel, although in a sense different from the one to which Winterson seems to allude in her introduction.The novel apparently develops along a main narrative axis: the autodiegetic narrator’s account of her psychological, emotional and social evolution from seven-year-old girl to adult woman. Yet, this process of maturation, which follows the pattern of traditional Bildungsromane, is supplemented and given depth in perspective and scope by the insertion and superimposition of other narrative layers. This disposition of the material in apparently independent scales, together with frequent allusions —either explicit or implicit— to previous literary and historical texts, produces a series of parallelisms and interactions among the multiplicity of elements that provide a higher level of complexity to the overall result. In this way, the realistic account of Jeanette’s childhood in the first four chapters is enriched by the embedding of one nightmare and several fairy tales, in accordance with the small age of prime focus, which mirror the immediately preceding or following passages. In contrast, the last three chapters —after the break marked by the philosophical “Deuteronomy”— deal with the protagonist as a passage through adolescence to youth and the Bildungsroman becomes a real tale of a heroine’s quest for identity: Jeanette’s struggle to accept her sexual orientation in spite of the reactionary religious education she has received, and to become strong enough to remain unaffected from external aggression when she reasserts her lesbian identity. The greater significance of these events is pinpointed by the shift in tone as fairy tales give way to stories of a mythic and even legendary character. In all, there are many levels of narratives intertwined a along the novel, some of them in apparent isolation, like the story which little Jeanette invents around the figure of a personified tetrahedron, her wedding nightmare, or her summary of Beauty and the Beast. The rest are overtly linked among themselves: the fairy tale about the prince that sought a flawless wife is connected to Jeanette’s vision of the Winter Palace ,through the figure of the sacrificed goose and such on.

More notably, throughout the book, a clear intertextuality between the Bible and Jeanette’s life has been rendered visible. Living in a religious family, Jeanette’s life is a religious one; her community is a religious community. In the beginning, she is raised to be a missionary and to serve the church. One finds a large number of biblical quotes and hymns in honour of God in the account of Jeanette’s life. Interestingly enough, the names of the chapters of Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit are the names of the first eight books of the Old Testament. This appropriation of the Bible to some extent relates to the life story of Jeanette. Just as the first five books of the Old Testament are about the law of the world, the first five chapters of Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit are also about the law of the world in which Jeanette lives in. It’s a world of cruelness and obedience. In this world, a father figure like God is absent, instead, the law is represented by a feminine figure, Jeanette’s mother. The last three chapters tell the dramatic changes in Jeanette’s life after her affair with Melanie is let out of the bag, just as the next three books of Joshua, Judges and Ruth narrate the history of Israel.The intertitles of Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit serve as the narrative thread of the book, with the narratives of the Bible serving as an interpretative framework for the story of Jeanette’s. Furthermore, these biblical stories render it possible to do an allegorical reading of Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit. Foucault, in The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences argues that all periods of history have certain underlying epistemological assumption.The Bible, in the case of this novel serves as an episteme or a pretext. It itself can be used as an allegory to interpret Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit.

The implications that can be extracted from such an accumulation of narrative scales and the various interconnections that link them together with the suggestive power of apparently simple passages whose connotative richness adds different nuances to the overall purpose of the text, may allow for striking, unexpected readings of the novel that will depend on the reader’s capacity to decode the implicit information.

To discuss this element in greater depth, it is significant to notice how the whole plotline of Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit is constructed upon and driven by the religious belief of Christianity. Jeanette is adopted and raised to be a missionary in a Christian family. After her love affair with a girl is exposed to her mother and the church, she is forced to leave her family. Obviously there is an intertextual relationship between the Bible and Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, the most conspicuous indication of which is provided by the table of contents of Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit: apart from the introduction, which serves as a preface to the fiction as a whole, its eight chapters are respectively named after the first eight books of the Old Testament, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, and Ruth. Besides, biblical stories and quotes are referred to repeatedly throughout the novel. These references to, or rather, appropriation of the Bible indicate not only the Christian environment where Jeanette lives, but also the development of her story through the history of Israel in the Bible.In this way, the laws of the Bible become the laws of Jeanette’s world. The history of the Israeli people implies the history of Jeanette, in that the Bible, as the exclusive moral guideline within her community, directly affects Jeanette’s personal life. Creating this intertextual relationship between Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit and the Bible, Winterson has placed her book against a more macro backdrop, equating an individual’s private history with the public history of a religious group, and hence attesting to her idea that all history is socially constructed.

 

In the Bible, the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy constitute the five books of Moses. They lay down the laws in the Old Testament; however, their importance exceeds this function. The laws are not only the rules established by God, but also a religious covenant with Him. When the covenant is broken, so is the faith in Him. Similarly, in Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, when Jeanette transgresses the covenant by starting a love affair with a girl, her relationships with both God and her mother, who like God, represents ultimate authority for Jeanette, are broken.

Deuteronomy, the last book of Moses, is at the same time the last book of the law, asWinterson suggests in her novel but it deserves mention at the onset of the discussion here irrespective of its placing in the novel , as it possess the power to become a prerequisite for further development  and progressing of the argument.The Book of Deuteronomy contains various farewell messages from Israel’s leader. Its addressees are the new generation and the laymen of the religious world. In Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, the chapter “Deuteronomy” is the shortest as well as the most unique one. It is not so much a chapter of a novel as a short reflection, in which the narrator discusses time, history, and the lessons to be learned, just as the Book of Deuteronomy in the Bible aims to do. Compared with other chapters in the novel, this chapter resembles the corresponding Bible book the most because it speaks directly to the reader. Nevertheless, the contents of the Book of Deuteronomy and the novel’s eponymous chapter are quite different in that the biblical book pays close attention to the basic law of the Israeli people, while the novel’s chapter questions the nature of time, history and laws. Concluding the first section of her novel with such a didactic and challenging chapter, Winterson draws the reader’s attention to her philosophical scepticism of history and of narration. She proposes that history is constructed by humankind, just as, is the case with the relationship between the Bible and this novel: Very often history is a means of denying the past. Denying the past is to refuse to recognise its integrity. To fit it, force it, function it, to suck out the spirit until it looks the way you think it should.

We are all historians in our small way -to validate this point, Winterson makes Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit an experimental fiction, interweaving her main story with various narrative threads such as Arthurian legends and mythic tales. Winterson’s adoption of raw materials from her personal life and mythic legends and from her semi-autobiography induces the reader to question the nature of a novel, history, and life.

Also, in keeping with her intention to deconstruct the validity of (sacred) history, Winterson embarks on an explicit reflection on the nature of the category “history” and its relation with thatof “stories” in the central chapter: “Deuteronomy. The last book of the law”. In this chapter, Winterson denounces the “reducing of stories called history”as the end-product of a series of manipulations of past events “until it looks the way you think it should” so that people “know what to believe and what not to believe” and can be “kept where they belong” .This absolutist manoeuvre of privileging the story told from the hegemonic point of view over all the Others is, according to Winterson, “a means of denying the past” and of silencing those Other discordant voices that might destabilize the power of the dominant social groups. The narrating voice launches a further attack on the authority of any official history in her defence of the importance of being aware of the subjectivity and relativity of perspective inherent in every account of “reality”.

Now, to come to discussion according to numerical ordering of the chapters, we know that The Book of Genesis is divided into two sections: the first part relates the beginning of the world and the spread of sin, culminating in the destructive flood in the days of Noah; the second part focuses on Abraham and how God deals with him. Through Abraham, God promises the world that He will bring salvation and blessings to His people. Consequently, people begin to trust in God. Abraham’s calling marks an important stage in the development of God’s relationship with His people. In Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, the chapter “Genesis” tells the beginning of the novel as well:Jeanette is adopted and raised by a religious family, living under the pressure of a zealous mother. Jeanette has been homeschooled, until at the end of this chapter, she is forced to go to school. Similar to the Bible, this chapter reveals the beginning of Jeanette’s life story and the “devastating flood” of her life, the termination of her homeschooling. In this chapter, I read Jeanette’s mother as symbolizing Abraham, through whom God’s words are spread to his children and the people. In the Bible, God institutes a covenant firsthand with Abraham, promising that He shall bring blessings to him, his family, and his next generations. Abraham and his family learn that they can put trust in God in times of famine and feasting. One generation after another, God’s promises are spread in a great nation. Similarly, in Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, Jeanette’s mother represents Jeanette’s initial contact with God. Her mother’s pious prayers and trust in God lead Jeanette to trust in God as well. The covenant between Jeanette and God is thus established.

 

The second book of Moses, Exodus, documents how Israel is born as a nation. InOranges Are Not the Only Fruit, Jeanette, leaving her protecting home, enters into the school life. This chapter marks her birth as an independent person. In this chapter, Jeanette first experiences the conflict between her religious belief and secular life. The school becomes her Egypt, where she is treated differently and where she is misunderstood by her fellow classmates. For example, in the sewing class, when asked to work on a verbal embroidering project, other children come up with sentences such as “TO MOTHER WITH LOVE” and birthday motifs, but Jeanette wants to embroider the text “THE SUMMER IS ENDED AND WE ARE NOT YET SAVED” (Jeremiah 8:20). Because of this reference to the Bible, her teacher accuses her of upsetting other children. Unfortunately, Jeanette’s home is her Egypt as well, due to her mother’s dominance over her for many years.

The next biblical book, Leviticus, contains God’s guidelines for His newly redeemed people, teaching them how to worship, praise and obey the holy God. It records the laws the priests of Leviticus must obey. This book contains some of the rules and laws given by Moses himself to the people of Israel. Similarly, in the corresponding chapter of the novel, it is shown that Jeanette has accepted the rules and creeds her mother sets up for her. For instance, in the opening scene of this chapter, Jeanette and her mother hear a loud noise coming from their next door neighbours. Her mother identifies it as a sign of fornication, while Jeanette, not knowing what it means exactly, is sure that it signifies a sin. In the second part of this chapter, a tale of a prince who is determined to find a perfect woman as his wife is narrated.Nevertheless, he learns from a beautiful woman he has found that perfection does not reside in flawlessness, but in the balance between different qualities and strengths.This tale corresponds to Jeanette’s disagreement with the priest: when the priest declares that perfection is flawlessness, Jeanette realizes that “it was at this moment that I began to develop my first theological disagreement”. This disagreement marks her first protest against the religious authority and forebodes a more formidable storm in the following chapters. Both the main plot and the imaginative tale pose a challenge to the theme of Leviticus – the worshipping of God as the only perfection of the world.

The fourth book of Moses, Numbers, takes wanderings for its theme. Most of this book is about the Israelis’ wanderings in the open wilderness. The lesson of Numbers is that it might be necessary to pass through the wilderness, but one does not have to live there for life. This lesson corresponds to the desire expressed in the chapter “Numbers” in Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit: one should be able to explore one’s true desires without being abandoned by one’s community. The chapter “Numbers” marks the turning point of Jeanette’s life and the novel. In this chapter, Jeanette tries to assess the matters of love and marriage, bringing a feminist perspective to these subjects. Later she meets Melanie and gradually falls in love with her. This chapter reveals Jeanette’s exploration of her sexuality and her true self.

In the Bible, after the five books of the law come the twelve historical books, from the Book of Joshua to the Book of Esther. Winterson employs the first three historical books, the books of Joshua, Judges, and Ruth in her novel. The Book of Joshua tells the story of the capable leader, Joshua, who has led Israel in three major military campaigns. The lesson of Joshua is that victory comes through faith in the holy God and obedience to Him, instead of through violent wars or numerical advantages. In

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, the chapter “Joshua” witnesses how Jeanette’s mother and her church deal with her love affair with Melanie. To some extent, this account bears the character of a military war between conservative religious faith and individual freedom in sexuality and love. In an attempt to save her, Jeanette is exorcised and confined, a treatment which conjures up the images of ancient witch trials and the persecution of aberrations such as homosexuality. However, by the end of this chapter, Jeanette falls in love with another girl called Katy, which symbolizes the beginning of her acceptance of her true desires.

The biblical Book of Judges presents complete contrast to the Book of Joshua. In Joshua, obedient people conquer the land through the power of God, while in the Book of Judges, disobedient people are defeated again and again due to their rebellion against God. During those years, governed by different leaders, Israel is in lack of a central leadership for the people. The Book of Judges demonstrates how Israel sets aside God’s law and follows its own counsel. In Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, the chapter “Judges” is fragmented. In the beginning, Jeanette remains in the church while at the same time she keeps her affair with Katy going. But in the end, she finally decides to move out, step into the wide world, and set up her own law.

The Book of Ruth is a cameo story of love and devotion dealing with the themes of exile and relationship between women, a daughter and her mother-in-law in this case.

The main character, Ruth, is a woman who chooses to stay in Israel with her mother-in-law, Naomi, after her husband’s death. She abandons her pagan background and clings to the Israeli people and their God. Curiously enough, the Book of Ruth is one of the few books in the Bible with a woman as its main character. Winterson’s novel ends with a chapter entitled “Ruth”, leaving a feminist trace to the fiction. In the chapter “Ruth”, Jeanette wanders around in the world, working as an ice-cream van driver to support herself. In the end, she comes back home to spend a Christmas, and sees her mother, not obsessed with Jeanette’s sexuality as before, still practice her faithful law. Jeanette may not be able to stay with her mother for good as Ruth does with her mother-in-law in the Bible, but her coming back suggests that relationship between Jeanette and her mother is to somewhat not severed.

Through the comparison between the Bible’s and Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit’ stable of contents and between each book’s and chapter’s general ideas, it is obvious that Winterson appropriates the main themes of the first eight books of the Old Testament to construct the plot of her own novel. The first five chapters of Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit set up the law of the religious community, the law Jeanette’s mother and her church piously obey and force Jeanette to obey as well, while in the last three chapters, the novel culminates in conflict but moves towards a calm ending.

Finally accepting her sexuality and desires, Jeanette breaks with the old law and lays down her own law. Jeanette’s mother, for the love of her daughter and her God, eventually admits that oranges are not the only fruit.

 

 

 

 

Rubina hazarika

Roll no. 702

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2 thoughts on “ORANGES ARE NOT THE ONLY FRUIT- A READING OF THE INTERTEXTUALITY”

  1. “Oranges are not only the fruit” is, no doubt, a postmodernist text. The essay explores the perspectives of postmodernism and has well discussed the implications of intertextuality in the novel. Good work!

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  2. Large chunks of the post is plagiarised from the essay “A Feminine Subject in Postmodernist Chaos: Janette Winterson’s Political Manifestó
    in Oranges are not the only Fruit “… And from others..

    Like

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