Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit


Jeanette Winterson

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Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Jeanette Winterson's Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Jeanette Winterson

Born in Manchester to a seventeen-year-old factory worker and adopted by the Winterson family six months after her birth, Jeanette Winterson was raised by Pentecostal Evangelical Christian parents in Accrington, a manufacturing city in Northern England. Winterson was raised to be a missionary, but after coming out as a lesbian at the age of sixteen, she was forced to leave home, live in her car, and work odd jobs to put herself through college at Oxford University. Shortly after graduating, Winterson published her first book—the autobiographical novel Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit—in 1985, at just twenty-five years old. The novel was an enormous success, winning the prestigious Whitbread Award for a First Novel, and was eventually adapted into a serial television program for the BBC—Winterson wrote the screenplay, and the program premiered in 1990 to even more buzz and acclaim. A prolific writer, Winterson is the author of over twenty-five books of fiction, nonfiction, and literature for children. She was made an officer of the Order of the British Empire in 2006. She is married to the writer and psychoanalyst Susie Orbach, and teaches at the University of Manchester. She makes her home in the Cotswolds, just west of Oxford. 
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Historical Context of Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit

In Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?, Winterson charts the histories of both Manchester, the place of her birth, and Accrington, the stuck-in-time city where she grew up, in order to explain the historical context of both Oranges and Why Be Happy. She describes Manchester as a “raw,” working-class city, which became a “radical” hub due to the “uncontrollable reality” of harsh factory conditions and the “success and shames” that accompanied them. Religion was a hub and a refuge in the “raw” world of the factories, and the Pentecostal Church was the center of young Jeanette’s life, as it was the center of life for so much of her community—so much so that, for Jeanette’s family, church life subsumed almost everything else.

Other Books Related to Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit

According to Winterson and her reviewers alike, Oranges contains a greater levity and takes a much vaguer shape than what happened in her actual childhood. In her 2011 memoir Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?—which Winterson describes as the “silent twin” to Oranges—Winterson, having gained some temporal and emotional distance from the events of her childhood, writes much more starkly and unforgivingly about the physical and psychological abuse she endured at the hands of her mother and the officials at their family’s church. In the memoir, Winterson writes that she gave herself a friend—the character of Elsie Norris—because the lonely truth of her own childhood was too much to bear at the time she was writing Oranges. The texts interlock with one another, with the fanciful and inventive tales that pepper the narrative of Oranges serving as a balm against the cruelty of Jeanette’s actually childhood, which was finally revealed in Why Be Happy. Some other notable novels which feature an LGBTQ coming-of-age story include the graphic novel-slash-memoir Fun Home by Alison Bechdel, Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown, and The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily N. Danforth—this title also dealing directly with the control religions attempt to exert over their adherents’ sexualities.
Key Facts about Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit
  • Full Title: Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit
  • When Written: Early 1980s
  • Where Written: England
  • When Published: 1985
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Fiction; autobiographical fiction; coming-of-age story; LGBTQ fiction
  • Setting: Accrington, Lancashire; Oxford; London
  • Climax: After being discovered engaging in her second homosexual affair, the teenage Jeanette is kicked out of her family’s home, and the book’s narrative, propelled by the intense emotions surrounding Jeanette’s feelings of betrayal by her mother, splits and spins off into a fantastical story about a young girl named Winnet who seeks refuge in the hut of a duplicitous sorcerer.
  • Antagonist: Mother; the “demon”
  • Point of View: First person, with third-person “interludes”

Extra Credit for Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit

Stranger Than Fiction. In addition to using fictionalized versions of herself, her mother, and her childhood friends and teenage lovers in Oranges, Winterson has created versions of herself that have appeared in later novels. The orphan Silver, in 2004’s Lighthousekeeping, can be read as a Jeanette-figure, while her 1989 magical-realism novel Sexing the Cherry, set in 17th-century London, follows the metaphysical adventures of a domineering mother known as The Dog Woman and her adopted son Jordan.