Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit

Mother Character Analysis

Jeanette’s mother (unnamed in the book) is an intimidating, God-fearing woman whose domineering attitude, stringent adherence to evangelism, and desire for control eventually ruin her relationship with her adopted daughter, Jeanette. Despite the fact that Jeanette has discovered her adoption papers, her mother claims that Jeanette was “hers from the Lord.” Jeanette’s mother is deeply involved in church life, and she seeks to immerse her daughter in the world of religion as well. Jeanette’s mother keeps her daughter from going to school until legal action is threatened, and from an early age begins training Jeanette for a life as a missionary. Jeanette’s mother is often so wrapped up in her religious community that she is detached from her young daughter (and frequently gives her oranges to eat in order to distract her during moments of intense emotion or pain, rather than helping her to work through her emotions or problems). Religion, and the keeping of an insular and strict religious community, is a means by which Jeanette’s mother can exert control over her daughter, and keep Jeanette from all the evils and perils of the world. Jeanette’s mother finds herself again and again torn between her desire to “save” her daughter and what it would actually mean to save her daughter; when Jeanette is caught in a lesbian affair and subjected to a cruel exorcism, her mother goes along with the pastor’s orders to keep Jeanette isolated without food for days on end, and burns all of Jeanette’s letters exchanged with her lover, Melanie, along with many of Jeanette’s precious things. Later, when Jeanette is caught in yet another affair, Jeanette’s mother stands alongside their church’s pastor when he announces his plan to strip women of their right to preach and teach within the church, using her own daughter as an example of the corruptive forces of women doing “men’s work.” When Jeanette refuses to undergo another exorcism, Jeanette’s mother casts her out of the house, seemingly not caring where she goes and telling her daughter that “the Devil takes care of his own.” When Jeanette returns home for the Christmas holiday after an indeterminate but seemingly long time away, Jeanette’s mother, peculiarly, acts as if nothing is wrong—she is distracted by the woes that have befallen the church, and for the first time her intense desire for connection and community is transparently revealed as, perhaps, the reason for all of her cruelty and strictness.

Mother Quotes in Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit

The Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit quotes below are all either spoken by Mother or refer to Mother. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Storytelling, Fantasy, and Invention Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Grove edition of Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit published in 1985.
1. Genesis Quotes

Like most people I lived for a long time with my mother and father. My father liked to watch the wrestling, my mother liked to wrestle; it didn’t matter what. She had never heard of mixed feelings. There were friends and there were enemies. Enemies were: The Devil (in his many forms), Next Door, Sex (in its many forms), Slugs. Friends were: God, Our dog, Auntie Madge, The Novels of Charlotte Brontë, Slug Pellets, and me, at first. I had been brought in to join her in a tag match against the Rest of the World.

Related Characters: Jeanette (speaker), Mother
Page Number: 1
Explanation and Analysis:
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The old woman got hold of my hand. She looked at my palm and laughed a bit. “You’ll never marry,” she said, “not you, and you’ll never be still.” She told me to run home fast. I ran and ran, trying to understand what she meant. I hadn’t thought about getting married anyway. There were two women I knew who didn’t have husbands at all. They ran the paper shop and sometimes they gave me a banana bar with my comic. I liked them a lot… [Once] I heard [my mother] telling Mrs. White about [them]. She said they dealt in unnatural passions. I thought she meant they put chemicals in their sweets.

Related Characters: Jeanette (speaker), Mother, Mrs. White
Page Number: 6
Explanation and Analysis:
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2. Exodus Quotes

“Dear Jeanette,” [my mother wrote], “there’s nothing wrong, you’re just a bit deaf. Why didn’t you tell me? I’m going home to get your pyjamas.” What was she doing? Why was she leaving me here? I started to cry. My mother looked horrified and rooting around in her handbag she gave me an orange. I peeled it to comfort myself, and seeing me a little calmer, everyone glanced at one another and went away.

Related Characters: Jeanette (speaker), Mother (speaker)
Related Symbols: Oranges
Page Number: 25
Explanation and Analysis:
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My mother came to see me quite a lot in the end, but it was the busy season at church. They were planning the Christmas campaign. When she couldn’t come herself she sent my father, usually with a letter and a couple of oranges. “The only fruit,” she always said. I filled my little bucket with peel and the nurses emptied it with an ill grace. I hid the peel under my pillow and the nurses scolded and sighed.

Related Characters: Jeanette (speaker), Mother
Related Symbols: Oranges
Page Number: 29
Explanation and Analysis:
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3. Leviticus Quotes

The conference was booked for a Saturday, and there was always a market on Saturdays, so my mother gave me an orange box and told me to shout at everyone what was happening. I had a bad time. It was raining and I wanted to do a good job. Eventually Mrs. Arkwright took pity on me. She let me put my orange box inside the shelter of her stall, so that I could give out [pamphlets] without getting too wet.

“[Your] mother’s mad,” she kept saying.

She might have been right, but there was nothing I could do about it. I was relieved when two o’ clock came and I could go inside with the rest.

“How many tracts did you give out?” demanded my mother, who was hovering by the door.

“All of them.”

She softened. “Good girl.”

The sermon was on perfection, and it was at that moment that I began to develop my first theological disagreement.

Related Characters: Jeanette (speaker), Mother (speaker), Mrs. Arkwright (speaker)
Related Symbols: Oranges
Page Number: 61-62
Explanation and Analysis:
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4. Numbers Quotes

I now know she had rewritten the ending [of] Jane Eyre. It was her favourite non-Bible book, and she read it to me over and over again, when I was very small. I couldn’t read it, but I knew where the pages turned. Later, literate and curious, I had decided to read it for myself. I found out, that dreadful day in a back corner of the library, that Jane doesn’t marry St. John at all, that she goes back to Mr. Rochester. It was like the day I discovered my adoption papers while searching for a pack of playing cards. I have never since played cards, and I have never since read Jane Eyre.

Related Characters: Jeanette (speaker), Mother
Page Number: 75-76
Explanation and Analysis:
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We read the Bible as usual, and then told each other how glad we were that the Lord had brought us together. She stroked my head for a long time, and then we hugged and it felt like drowning. Then I was frightened but couldn’t stop. There was something crawling in my belly. I had an octopus inside me. After that we did everything together, and I stayed with her as often as I could. My mother seemed relieved that I was seeing less of Graham, and for a while made no mention of the amount of time I spend with Melanie.

“Do you think this is Unnatural Passion?” I asked [Melanie] once.

“Doesn’t feel like it. According to Pastor Finch, that’s awful.” She must be right, I thought.

Melanie and I had volunteered to set up the Harvest Festival Banquet, and we worked hard in the church throughout the day. When everyone arrived we stood on the balcony, looking down on them. Our family. It was safe.

Related Characters: Jeanette (speaker), Melanie (speaker), Mother, Pastor Finch
Page Number: 92
Explanation and Analysis:
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6. Joshua Quotes

“Renounce her, renounce her,” the pastor kept saying, “it’s only the demon.”

“I can’t,” I said. “I just can’t.”

“We’ll come back the day after tomorrow,” he confided in my mother. “Meantime, don’t let her out of this room, and don’t feed her. She needs to lose her strength before it can be hers again.”

My mother locked me in [the parlor.] She did give me a blanket, but she took away the light bulb. Over the thirty-six hours that followed, I thought about the demon. I knew that demons entered wherever there was a weak point. If I had a demon my weak point was Melanie, but she was beautiful and good and had loved me. Can love really belong to the demon?

“They’re looking in the wrong place,” I thought. “If they want to get at my demon they’ll have to get at me. If I let them take away my demons, I’ll have to give up what I’ve found.”

“You can’t do that,” said a voice at my elbow. Leaning on the coffee table was the orange demon.

“What do you want?”

“Everyone has a demon,” the thing began, “but not everyone knows how to make use of it.

“Demons are evil, aren’t they?” I asked, worried.

“Not quite, they’re just difficult.”

“If I keep you, what will happen?”

“You’ll have a difficult time.”

“Is it worth it?”

“That’s up to you.”

The demon vanished.

Related Characters: Jeanette (speaker), Mother
Related Symbols: The Demon, Oranges
Page Number: 108-109
Explanation and Analysis:
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“The Lord forgives and forgets,” the pastor told me. Perhaps the Lord does, but my mother didn’t. While I lay shivering in the parlor she took a toothcomb to my room and found all the letters [from Melanie,] all the cards, all the jottings of my own, and burnt them in the backyard. There are different sorts of treachery, but betrayal is betrayal wherever you find it. She burnt a lot more than the letters that night in the backyard. I don’t think she knew. In her head she was still queen, but not my queen any more.

Related Characters: Jeanette (speaker), Mother, Melanie
Page Number: 113
Explanation and Analysis:
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“Here you are,” said my mother, giving me a sharp dig in the side. “Some fruit. You’re rambling in your sleep again.” It was a bowl of oranges. I took out the largest and tried to peel it. The skin hung stubborn, and soon I lay panting, angry and defeated. What about grapes or bananas? I did finally pull away the outer shell and, cupping both hands round, tore open the fruit.

“Feeling any better?” sitting in the middle [of the orange] was the orange demon.

“I’m going to die.”

“Not you, in fact you’re recovering, apart from a few minor hallucinations, and remember you’ve made your choice now, there’s no going back.”

Related Characters: Jeanette (speaker), Mother (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Demon, Oranges
Page Number: 108-109
Explanation and Analysis:
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8. Ruth Quotes

“Daughter, you have disgraced me,” said the sorcerer, and I have no more use for you. You must leave. Winnet could not ask for forgiveness when she was innocent, but she did ask to stay.

“If you stay, you will stay in the village and care for the goats. I leave you to make up your own mind.” He was gone. Winnet was about to burst into tears when she felt a light pecking at her shoulder. It was Abednego, the raven she loved.

“[If you leave] you won’t lose your power, you’ll [just] use it differently. Sorcerers can’t take their gifts back, ever.”

“And what if I stay?”

“You will find yourself destroyed by grief. All you know will be around you and at the same time far from you. Better to find a new place now.

Winnet sat silent at the edge of the fireplace. The raven, struck dumb, could not warn her that her father had crept in, in the shape of a mouse, and was tying an invisible thread around one of her buttons.

Related Characters: Jeanette, Mother
Related Symbols: The Demon, Winnet
Page Number: 148-149
Explanation and Analysis:
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I was beginning to wonder if I’d ever been anywhere. My mother was treating me like she always had; had she noticed my absence? Did she even remember why I’d left? I have a theory that every time you make an important choice, the part of you left behind continues the other life you could have had. There’s a chance that I’m not here at all, that all the parts of me, running along all the choices I did and didn’t make, for a moment brush against each other. That I am still an evangelist in the North, as well as the person who ran away.

Related Characters: Jeanette (speaker), Mother
Page Number: 174
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
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Mother Character Timeline in Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit

The timeline below shows where the character Mother appears in Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
1. Genesis
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...on her childhood, an older Jeanette writes that “like most people,” she lived with her mother and father for a long time. Her father enjoyed watching wrestling, and her mother was,... (full context)
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Jeanette’s mother had a clear list of friends and enemies. Enemies included the Devil, sex, the family... (full context)
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It wasn’t that Jeanette’s mother was unable to bear children, but rather that she didn’t want to, and so she... (full context)
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On Sundays, Jeanette’s mother prayed alone and standing up in the parlor until ten in the morning. Of her... (full context)
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Jeanette often sat in the kitchen while her mother prayed in the next room, and Jeanette knew when her mother began praying for vengeance... (full context)
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...the World Service on the radio, Jeanette was tasked with writing down notes for her mother, who was the Missionary Secretary at their church. According to Jeanette, if the Missionary Report... (full context)
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In the afternoons, after prayers and lunch, Jeanette and her mother would take the dog for a walk. While passing the house next door, Jeanette’s mother... (full context)
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...and once invited her to go to the seaside with them. When Jeanette told her mother about the women’s offer, Jeanette’s mother firmly told her no, but would not explain why.... (full context)
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On their Sunday walks, when Jeanette and her mother got to the top of a hill on the outskirts of town, Jeanette’s mother would... (full context)
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One night, by mistake, Jeanette’s mother had walked into Pastor Spratt’s Glory Crusade, which had been set up in a revival... (full context)
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Jeanette imagines her mother out walking one night after attending the Glory Crusade, and devising a plan to get... (full context)
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Jeanette and her mother leave the banquet with Jeanette’s mother’s friends Alice and May. Jeanette thinks of how horrible... (full context)
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Back at home, Jeanette heads to bed, but knows her mother will stay awake for hours—Jeanette’s mother never goes to bed until four in the morning.... (full context)
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This, Jeanette says, is how her education began: with her mother teaching her to read from the Book of Deuteronomy in the Bible. Jeanette’s mother teaches... (full context)
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One day, Jeanette asks her mother why she isn’t allowed to go to school. Her mother often calls school a Breeding... (full context)
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One morning, an envelope is dropped through the letter box. When Jeanette’s mother opens the envelope, she becomes upset. Jeanette asks her mother what the matter is, and... (full context)
2. Exodus
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...before her first day of school, Jeanette asks why she is being sent now. Her mother tells her that if she doesn’t go to school, she herself will be sent to... (full context)
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In the morning, Jeanette’s mother rouses her, complaining that she herself has had no sleep all night. As Jeanette struggles... (full context)
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...assumed she was in a state of rapture, which was “not uncommon [at] church.” Her mother assumed the same, telling her friends who asked why Jeanette had gone quiet that the... (full context)
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...night soon after that, Jeanette realized that something was very wrong, and went to her mother to tell her that the world had grown quiet. Jeanette’s mother, reading in the kitchen,... (full context)
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...back to an examination room, and Miss Jewsbury joined them for the examination. Soon, Jeanette’s mother arrived, conversed with the doctor, and wrote Jeanette a note. “You’re just a bit deaf,”... (full context)
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...made mistakes sometimes. In the hospital, Jeanette played with orange peels and waited for her mother to return. When her mother came back, she brought a “huge carrier bag of oranges,”... (full context)
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Toward the end of Jeanette’s stay, her mother came to see her frequently, but often couldn’t stay long because it was the busy... (full context)
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When Jeanette got out of the hospital, her mother was away on a church endeavor, and Jeanette stayed with Elsie for a few days.... (full context)
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As excitement for the summer mounts, Jeanette has lately been listening to her mother’s stories of the early days of their church, and how she reformed Jeanette’s father, converted... (full context)
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...the true but bizarre story of her summer, which was peppered with anecdotes about her mother healing the sick, the strenuous relationship with her next-door neighbors, and baptisms in the public... (full context)
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Jeanette tried to explain to the women that her mother had taught her how to read from the Bible—specifically the Book of Deuteronomy, which describes... (full context)
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...when she would be able to attend missionary school in ten long years. When Jeanette’s mother received the letter from Mrs. Vole describing Jeanette’s bizarre religious leanings, Jeanette’s mother rejoiced and... (full context)
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...not mind, believing deep down that she was right and just. When she told her mother about her isolation at school, her mother told her that the two of them were... (full context)
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...talented classmates’ projects garnered praise when hers drew scorn. When Jeanette complained to Elsie, her mother, and other members of the congregation, her mother’s friend Mrs. White told Jeanette that she... (full context)
3. Leviticus
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Jeanette writes that heathens were a “daily preoccupation” in her mother’s household. The neighbors next door—which her mother referred to only as Next Door—were particularly hated... (full context)
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Jeanette writes that her mother always called herself a “missionary on the home front.” Though she hadn’t been called to... (full context)
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...the Society holds a special conference in Jeanette’s hometown. In preparation for the event, Jeanette’s mother makes Jeanette stand on an orange box at the market and “shout at everyone what... (full context)
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...go into the conference with the rest of the Society members. At the door, her mother is waiting for her, and asks how many pamphlets Jeanette has given out. When Jeanette... (full context)
4. Numbers
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...different things. Sometimes he is blind, sometimes he is a pig, sometimes he is Jeanette’s mother, and sometimes he is a suit of clothes with nothing inside. (full context)
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...rubs his beard against Jeanette’s face, and tell her that women wouldn’t love men any mother way. Jeanette’s aunt shoos her husband away, and tells Jeanette that she’ll “get used to... (full context)
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On the walk home, Jeanette asks her mother if the two of them can have a talk. Jeanette’s mother offers her an orange,... (full context)
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Jeanette’s mother recruits her to run errands in the rain. Jeanette does not want to go, but... (full context)
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When the bus arrives downtown, Jeanette asks her mother if she can have a new raincoat; her mother refuses. At the market, Jeanette gets... (full context)
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In a secondhand shop, Jeanette’s mother selects an enormous bright pink raincoat for Jeanette to try on. Jeanette hates the jacket,... (full context)
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Jeanette strikes up a conversation with Melanie, and the two banter back and forth. Jeanette’s mother comes to fetch her, telling her it’s time to go to a nearby pub, where... (full context)
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Jeanette talks about Melanie all the time at home, and one day her mother tells her that the two of them need to talk seriously. Jeanette’s mother asks Jeanette... (full context)
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As a young woman, Jeanette’s mother secured a teaching job in Paris. Though she was not yet with the Lord, she... (full context)
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Jeanette’s mother took the prescribed tablets and stopped seeing Pierre, and the next time she saw him—by... (full context)
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...and Jeanette stays over at Melanie’s as often as she can. Jeanette notices that her mother does not say anything about how much time the two of them are spending together,... (full context)
6. Joshua
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...White what’s going on, but Mrs. White doesn’t answer her, and only says that her mother has gone out. (full context)
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...about going to see Melanie later, and thinks about how she recently revealed to her mother “as much as [she] could” about their friendship, though Jeanette herself is not entirely certain... (full context)
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The Awful Occasion, Jeanette says, was the time her birth mother appeared and attempted to claim her back. Jeanette had found her adoption papers years ago,... (full context)
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When her mother came into the kitchen, Jeanette asked why her mother had sent the woman away when... (full context)
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...Melanie, she feels uncomfortable all the time lately, and is sick of lying to her mother about where she’s staying at nights. Though it is common for members of their church... (full context)
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Soon after that, Jeanette attempted to explain to her mother how she felt, but she was unable to really communicate to her mother all that... (full context)
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...find the house still and empty. There is a note on the fridge from Jeanette’s mother, which informs Jeanette that her mother has gone to stay at Mrs. White’s. Jeanette thinks... (full context)
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...something is wrong. The pastor is standing at the front of the church, and Jeanette’s mother has gone up to join him. She is weeping. Melanie squeezes Jeanette’s hand, and Miss... (full context)
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...one would have found out if Jeanette hadn’t tried to explain things to her “mad” mother. Jeanette asks Miss Jewsbury who told her what was going on, and Miss Jewsbury answers... (full context)
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...pastor offers Jeanette one last chance to repent, but Jeanette refuses. The pastor tells Jeanette’s mother that he will return with the elders the day after tomorrow, and instructs Jeanette’s mother... (full context)
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...nearby town. Miss Jewsbury agrees to drive Jeanette to see her, and Jeanette calls her mother to tell her that she feels compelled to spend the night in church. (full context)
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When Jeanette returns home, she has come down with glandular fevers. Her mother believes the illness is evil leaving Jeanette’s body, and tells Jeanette that as soon as... (full context)
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Jeanette’s mother wakes her up with a bowl of oranges and tells her she has been rambling... (full context)
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...seems to have noticed that Miss Jewsbury has packed up and left town. Meanwhile, Jeanette’s mother is collecting canned foods to add to her War Cupboard beneath the church, which she... (full context)
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...lucky it is that Jeanette has lost none of her gifts in her ordeal. Jeanette’s mother simply replies that she “got to [Jeanette] in time,” and then goes off to bed. (full context)
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...pastor gives everyone the afternoon off. May wants to go to the zoo, and Jeanette’s mother wants to go to see an exhibition nearby, but Jeanette declines both their offers and... (full context)
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Months later, Christmas approaches. Jeanette’s mother is chosen to write the script for the Nativity play, and she takes to the... (full context)
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After the play is over, Jeanette heads home and leaves her mother to bask in bravos at the church. Jeanette is shaken, rattled by Melanie’s sudden reappearance... (full context)
7. Judges
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Jeanette’s mother wants her to move out of the house. She claims that Jeanette makes her ill,... (full context)
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...“love[s] the wrong sort of people”—namely, she engages in romantic love with other women. Her mother has accused her of “aping men,” but Jeanette considers that statement far from the truth,... (full context)
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...the next morning, the two girls are summoned to the office of one of Jeanette’s mother’s friends, who had once been the treasurer of the Society for the Lost. The woman... (full context)
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At home, the scene is “incredible”—her mother smashes every plate in the kitchen before calling the pastor and ordering Jeanette straight to... (full context)
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Jeanette’s mother wails in agony, then begins blaming Jeanette for giving in to her own perversity. Jeanette’s... (full context)
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...no longer be allowed to preach in their church. There is an uproar, but Jeanette’s mother stands up and speaks out in support of the pastor’s decision. Jeanette’s mother goes on... (full context)
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Suddenly, a voice cries out that all Jeanette’s mother has said is a “load of old twaddle.” Jeanette turns around and finds that it... (full context)
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...comes to Jeanette’s house for tea. He asks when he should book her and her mother for their “holiday,” but Jeanette does not answer. Jeanette tells the pastor she refuses to... (full context)
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The pastor and Jeanette’s mother retreat to the parlor for half an hour, and then the pastor leaves. Jeanette’s mother... (full context)
8. Ruth
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...creams and then parks the truck. She goes into Elsie’s house, where she finds her mother, Mrs. White, and the pastor gathered in the parlor. Elsie is nowhere to be found.... (full context)
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...she walks around the parlor serving vanilla ice cream to the pastor, Mrs. White, her mother, and her mother’s friends, the members of the congregation become enraged. Mrs. White tells Jeanette’s... (full context)
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...in a city. One of her new friends asks her when she last saw her mother, but Jeanette does not want to think of her past. Her friend asks her if... (full context)
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...arrives at her front door, and she peeks through the window into the parlor. Her mother is playing a Christmas carol on an electric organ. Jeanette lets herself in and greets... (full context)
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Jeanette’s mother wakes her up with a cup of hot chocolate and a shopping list, and bids... (full context)
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...errands, she stops at a restaurant to eat and think. She puzzles at how her mother is treating her as she always has and doesn’t even seem to remember why Jeanette... (full context)
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When Jeanette arrives home, she startles her mother, who is listening to the radio. The two eat dinner, and Jeanette’s mother tells her... (full context)
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...in Jeanette’s presence that she suffers a fit and has to be taken home. Jeanette’s mother faults Jeanette for Mrs. White’s illness. To pass the time before opening presents, Jeanette and... (full context)
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Jeanette feels for her mother, whose involvements with the Society for the Lost and the Morecambe house have brought her... (full context)