As a child, Jeanette’s mother frequently comforts and plies Jeanette with the sweet treat of an orange. In moments of sickness and sadness, Jeanette’s mother roots through her purse or goes to the cupboard to retrieve an orange, which Jeanette peels and eats with focus and delight. Jeanette’s mother, though physically present and overbearing, is emotionally absent and unequipped. Rather than comforting her daughter with words or actions, Jeanette’s mother simply hands her an orange, and oranges come to symbolize the inadequacy of Jeanette’s mother’s mothering, and the inadequacy of Jeanette’s emotional life in general.
When Jeanette is in the hospital, after having had everyone around her ignore her deafness (brought on by adenoid trouble but believed to be a divine experience), her mother offers her oranges to pacify her while she lies in her hospital bed, afraid and alone. When Jeanette is made to stand on a street corner in the rain, testifying and handing out church pamphlets, her mother gives her an orange crate to stand on. When Jeanette is sick with fever after her exorcism, her mother, rather than comforting her at a time of deep trauma and pain, offers her an orange, in which Jeanette sees the orange demon. After being caught having a second affair with a girl, Jeanette, again approached by her mother and her pastor and begged to repent, hallucinates oranges dropping onto her windowsill. In this moment of deep pain and isolation, Jeanette is not offered any comfort—and this time, her mother does not even offer her an orange. Jeanette’s psyche, though, associating oranges with comfort, procures them for her, and Jeanette even offers her mother and her pastor, who are standing over her bed, an orange—perhaps to comfort them, or perhaps to throw in their faces the inadequacy of their “help.”
Oranges Quotes in Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit
“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.
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.
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.
“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.
“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.”
I was almost asleep when the pastor appeared with my mother hovering in the background. He stood a safe distance away like I was infected. The pastor explained to me as quietly as he could that I was the victim of a great evil. That I was afflicted and oppressed, that I had deceived the flock. My mother gave a little cry, then got angry again. They started arguing between themselves whether I was an unfortunate victim or a wicked person. I listened for a while; neither of them were very convincing, and besides, seven ripe oranges had just dropped on to the window sill.
“Have an orange,” I offered by way of conversation. They both stared at me like I was mad. I lay for a long time just watching the oranges. They were pretty, but not much help. I was going to need more than an icon to get me through this one.