Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit


Jeanette Winterson

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Themes and Colors
Storytelling, Fantasy, and Invention Theme Icon
Religion and Control Theme Icon
Women and Womanhood Theme Icon
Transgression and Forgiveness Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Women and Womanhood Theme Icon

The world of Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit is ruled by—and mostly populated by—women. With the exception of Jeanette’s pastor and her father (who is only mentioned in passing), the characters in the “real” story of the novel are overwhelmingly women. In addition, the fantastical stories that occupy Jeanette’s dream life depict men as being somewhat flat: evil sorcerers, weary knights, or judgmental princes. In populating the story of her childhood primarily with women, Jeanette Winterson argues that womanhood is an endless becoming. She shows women at all stages of their lives grappling with emotional and intellectual quandaries, and struggling to live in a way that they feel is righteous, godly, or simply most convenient. In this way, Winterson investigates the many stages of womanhood and argues for a more complicated understanding of what it means to be a woman in the world.

Jeanette’s adoptive mother is the most important figure in her life for the entirety of the novel, and she is Jeanette’s initial model for what it means to be a woman: polite, demure, godly, and self-denying. Jeanette’s mother instills these values in her so deeply that when Jeanette loses her hearing due to a problem with her adenoids, Jeanette is so self-denying and religious that she is unable to recognize what is wrong with her or find the courage to ask herself. Believing instead that she is having a divine experience, Jeanette walks around in silence for weeks before finally confiding in a neighbor that she has gone completely deaf.

Jeanette’s mother also speaks frankly to her about the values of propriety and prudishness. She tells Jeanette a long story about an infatuation she once had with a young man in France. Feeling a “fizzy” feeling inside which she believed was love, she engaged in premarital sex; at a visit to the doctor a few days later, she was told she had a stomach ulcer, which explained the “fizzy” feeling and left her realizing she had risked everything for carnal pleasure. She wants Jeanette never to let anyone touch her “down there,” and refuses to discuss sex or love again. Jeanette, dissatisfied with this vision of womanhood that her mother presents, defies her mother’s wishes—and the status quo—by embarking on relationships with two different girls, attempting to figure out for herself what womanhood can be.

Jeanette’s relationship with Melanie—both girls’ first—is marked by sweetness and naiveté. Melanie is one of Jeanette’s “recruits” to the church, and as such their relationship revolves mostly around church life. They see the members of their church as their “family,” and are each devastated when their relationship is discovered and they are publicly labelled as sinners and deviants. From this experience, Jeanette learns that her attempts to follow her “unnatural passions” will be met with anger and even violence, but nonetheless she elects to keep the “demon” of her rebellion around, even while knowing that it is the more difficult choice.

Jeanette’s relationship with Katy, one year later, ends similarly—the two are discovered, and Jeanette is deemed sinful, deranged, and is even considered to be possessed. In the wake of this discovery, there is a change at church, which Jeanette believes her mother and the pastor have conspired to bring on: women are no longer allowed to preach or testify in church. Jeanette—who drew strength and happiness from preaching, even in the wake of her exorcism and all the pain it brought her, feels that the “devil [has] attacked [her] at [her] weakest point: [her] inability to realize the limitations of [her] sex.”

In wanting more out of womanhood than missionary work, marriage, or the small-town monotony she has witnessed all her life, Jeanette has opened herself up to the deep hurt and disappointment of realizing that there are “limitations” on what women can be or do—at least in her church and in her town. When Jeanette’s mother kicks her out of the house it is a terrifying time, but also a necessary and in a way blessed one, as it enables Jeanette to strike out on her own and discover for herself what womanhood can be. By populating her novel overwhelmingly with female characters, Winterson makes a statement about women’s visibility, women’s complexity, and women as they relate to one another and negotiate male spaces. The women in Oranges are rarely kind, or even nice; they are duplicitous, fearful, headstrong, self-assured, selfless, and self-denying. Jeanette’s interrogation of her own womanhood as she grows older is informed by the women she has known since childhood, and in the novel she maps the ways in which the women she has known throughout her life have made her into the woman she herself has become.

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Women and Womanhood ThemeTracker

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Women and Womanhood Quotes in Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit

Below you will find the important quotes in Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit related to the theme of Women and Womanhood.
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:

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:
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:
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:
4. Numbers Quotes

It was clear that I had stumbled on a terrible conspiracy. There are women in the world. There are men in the world. And there are beasts. What do you do if you marry a beast? Beasts are crafty. They disguise themselves like you and I. Like the wolf in “Little Red Riding Hood.” Why had no one told me? Did that mean no one else knew? Did that mean that all over the globe, in all innocence, women were marrying beasts?

Related Characters: Jeanette (speaker)
Page Number: 73
Explanation and Analysis:

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:
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:

“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:
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:

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: