Essay Topic 1
The central themes in the novel deal with sexuality and gender roles.
Part 1. Describe the views that expressed by the members of Jean's church.
Part 2. Analyze the views described. Are they sexist or prejudice?
Part 3. What philosophies exist contrary to this position? What is anti-essentialism?
Part 4. What effect do holding these views have on religious institutions such as Jean's church?
Essay Topic 2
Choose one of the Biblical books that a chapter of ORANGES ARE NOT THE ONLY FRUIT was named after; so Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, or Ruth.
Part 1. Describe the Biblical book, naming the most common references from it.
Part 2. Summarize the activity that happens in the chapter ORANGES ARE NOT THE ONLY FRUIT named after that Biblical book.
Part 3. Relate the chapter in the novel to the biblical chapter. What parallels is the book making? What references? How does the biblical...
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Narratively, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit is built on a particular irony - a contradiction in which it takes some sly delight. It can be simply stated. The Bible is the all-controlling authority to which the narrator's fundamentalist mother makes her defer, yet it is also the book on which the novel is based. The young Jeanette knows the Bible as a work of warning, prohibition and eschatological fear. (When she goes to school she duly terrifies the other children by explaining the fiery judgment that will soon be visited upon them.) Yet, though this is a story of the heroine's escape from her Scripture-obsessed mother and the Christian sect to which she belongs, the Bible gives shape and meaning to that story.
The novel is divided into eight sections, with the titles of the first eight books of the Bible, from Genesis to Ruth. These make sense of the different phases of Jeanette's life, from the age of seven to that of 16 or so. She herself looks to these Scriptural chapters for significance. After an official letter commands her mother to send her daughter to school ("the Breeding Ground"), Jeanette describes her confusing experiences in "Exodus". "When the children of Israel left Egypt, they were guided by the pillar of cloud by day, and the pillar of fire by night". She, however, is led out of bondage without any guide. In Joshua, where her "Unnatural Passion" for Melanie is discovered, she rebels against her mother's tyranny. "It is in the nature of walls that they should fall. That walls should fall is the consequence of blowing your own trumpet".
The narrator can hardly help using the Bible for her own story. This is her expertise. "We had a lot of Bible quizzes at church and my mother liked me to win." Her mother always has a Bible at the ready. Whenever she leaves home she takes "the travel size one" with her. She reads it aloud as she and her daughter eat bacon and eggs ("nice in a way"). So the Bible becomes the medium through which Jeanette expresses her own strength of mind. As a teenager she starts teaching a Bible study class and is indignant when, as a punishment for her sexual sins, the pastor bans her from doing so.
Indeed, Scriptural congress is next to sensual congress. She and Melanie consummate their affection via the Good Book. "We read the Bible as usual, and then told each other how glad we were that the Lord had brought us together." A couple of sentences later, they are overpowered. "And it was evening and it was morning; another day." A neat version of the time shift that tells you of sexual satisfaction, for it alludes to the fifth verse of Genesis. "And the evening and the morning were the first day". It is, one might say, the beginning of something.
The Bible is there not just in the novel's structure, but in the narrator's allusions and quotations. Quotation ("chapter and verse") is the usual weapon of the fundamentalist. "Vengeance is mine saith the Lord" is naturally one of her mother's favourites. (Frightening Old Testament stuff, though actually from St Paul's Epistle to the Romans.) But then the beauties of the King James Bible are there for all to appropriate. Threatened with the words of St Paul by the pastor who publicly announces that she and Melanie have "fallen under Satan's spell", Jeanette yells back: "To the pure all things are pure" (which is indeed St Paul - his Epistle to Titus). Later, the quote returns. She falls in love with Katy, who joins her church as well as sharing her bed. "We did have a genuinely spiritual dimension." The comment is wry, but not sarcastic. "To the pure all things are pure ... " she observes.
The novel may be a story of self-liberation for a secular age, but it recalls a traditional sense that a person's story is made significant by reference to the Bible. Why should any individual's story matter, after all? Because it follows the pattern of God-given precept and God-directed narrative. All the early heroes and heroines of the English novel - Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, Richardson's Pamela and Clarissa - make sense of their peculiar lives by reference to the Bible. Jeanette learns from the Bible (via her mother) "the signs and wonders that the unbeliever might never understand". There are other types of narrative to which the novel turns. Intermittently it flies into newly imagined fragments of fairy-tale or Arthurian myth, daydreams of knights and princesses and sorcerers. These dramatise the heroine's desires and fears. But they are, literally, detached from the tale of her youth. The Bible is its narrative marrow. Jeanette may escape her sect, but not the ready store of stories she has been given.
· John Mullan is professor of English at University College London. Join him and Jeanette Winterson for a discussion on Thursday November 1. Doors open at 6.30pm. Entry is £8 (includes a glass of wine). To reserve a ticket email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 020 7886 9281