Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by author Jeanette Winterson
Spoiler Free Review
Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit is the story of a young Jeanette, named after the author, who is raised by an extremely religious mother and their cult of Christianity church. She discovers at a young age that she may be a lesbian but that is strictly forbidden by the church.
She’s so young and sheltered when this happens that she doesn’t even have the word lesbian in her vocabulary. All she knows is that she’s doing something that feels right to her but also makes her feel guilty and ashamed.
This story follows her as she navigates discovering her sexuality and how she deals with being told it’s a sin.
It’s Winterson’s first novel and shows all the promise that is to come from her later works. Written on the Body and Sexing the Cherry are both brilliant works of art demonstrating her miraculous molding of language and we can see the seeds of that in Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit but they have not fully developed.
She’s still finding her style and finding her message which is completely understandable for a first novel. The short novel was adapted into a miniseries that ran from 1989 to 1990. The three episodes won several BAFTA awards including best drama series.
For me, Oranges is incredibly relatable. I am a bisexual woman who was raised by a very religious mother. When I came out I was told I was going to hell and that my “choice” was a sin punishable by eternal damnation.
I can definitely find common ground in this story of young Jeanette dealing with this same conflict of going from believing in god one second, thinking that he loves you like all his children, and then being told that he doesn’t. That you’re not worthy, that you’re flawed, that he created you incorrectly.
I realize that I’m in the minority here, most people are not from this exact background and will find this story less familiar. I can assure you though that it is accurately portrayed.
If you are looking to see an account of this kind of life that is accurate without exaggeration, Oranges is a great place to start. I will always encourage literature that broadens the public perception of LGBTQ+ people.
Additionally, if you fall within any part of the LGBTQ+ community you are worthy, you are enough, you are not flawed, and there are communities out there that will be much healthier for you than any that tell you otherwise.
You did not choose to be LGBTQ+ but you can choose who your family is.
4/5 oranges 🍊🍊🍊🍊
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Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit Summary
Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit is the first novel of Jeanette Winterson. If you are unfamiliar with her work I strongly suggest you read Written on the Body or Sexing the Cherry. Both are absolutely brilliant and where I started with my love for this amazing author.
Oranges shows the promise of her later works but you can tell she has a little more inexperience as a writer. She still has a lovely way with words and building characters with just somewhat less nuance.
It is a short book, 176 pages, and although you could read it in one sitting the subject matter is a bit heavy and you might need to take a break. I say one sitting like most people are reading a whole day, I guess I understand that 176 pages is not the average for most readers to plow through.
The novel is about a young women named Jeanette and one wonders how autobiographical this is with the author sharing the protagonist’s name. The character in the book is being raised by an extremely religious mother and her church. As a child she does not know any differently and assumes herself to be quite religious as well.
I know from experience how real this can be. I too was raised in a religious household and didn’t stop to question it until my teenage years. Many people underestimate the power of indoctrination. A child only knows what they’re taught and if they’re trapped in a bubble they will worship the bubble just like their parents.
The story begins when the government mandates that Jeanette attend public school and her mother agrees only to avoid being arrested or having Jeanette taken away from her.
A health problem causes Jeanette to go temporarily deaf and nobody in her family cares. They consider her to be full of the holy spirit and don’t question her unusual behavior. It isn’t until she tells a teacher at school that she is provided with any treatment.
Her mother visits her in the hospital but does nothing to ease her worries except bring her oranges. Her mother heals all ailments with oranges.
Jeanette returns to school but her religiosity causes her to be an outcast. Her mother consoles her emotional pain with more oranges.
She finally finds a friend when she meets another young woman named Melanie. She invites her to church and Melanie is terrified enough to want to convert. They begin a bible study together and attempt to reconcile the fear tactics with their feelings.
Meanwhile, Jeanette discovers she was adopted and doesn’t actually know who her real family is but has no idea how to find them or anything about them. This probably starts her questioning the ties she has to this family and subsequently this religion.
Jeanette and Melanie begin a relationship of exploration. They are no longer just friends and aren’t quite educated enough about sex to understand any of what they’re doing. They only know that they feel for each other and what they’re doing feels good.
But the church elders have an idea and they out them publicly at church in order to humiliate them and force them to renounce their sinful ways.
Melanie immediately renounces but Jeanette refuses because she doesn’t understand how her love could possibly be a bad thing. Melanie is weak willed and conforms easily. He transition into the church out of one instance of fear followed by her easy disowning of Jeanette confirms this. Jeanette, is much stronger and questions everything see experiences.
Jeanette is sent away with an older woman who takes advantage of her. They have sex and Jeanette hates it but doesn’t know that she can make it stop. This scene is extremely uncomfortable. The less an individual knows about sex the more traumatic it is likely to be.
She returns home to find many church members waiting for her with her mother. They pray over her for a full day and then starve her for two more in order to break her down. She gets a fever and has a vision of a demon. She has an epiphany that she must make a show of repentance.
Jeanette approaches Melanie after this trauma but Melanie refuses to live in sin with her and Jeanette is heartbroken.
She does find a new secret girlfriend some time later named Katy. Shortly after she discovers that Melanie is to marry an Army man. The time line is a little unclear here.
Jeanette and Katy are at church when the pastor blames all the sin on women being given any amount of power within their church. Jeanette’s mother agrees publicly that this is the case and that Jeanette must be sent away to be a missionary instead of wielding influence on the home-front. Poor Jeanette is thrown away many times throughout her story.
Sigh, this is all too real. For people who have not experienced this kind of religion first hand it may seem unlikely but believe me, there are women out there who truly believe these things.
Jeanette leaves to be a missionary and some time later returns home for the holidays. She is treated poorly and like an outcast who can never lift the stain of her sin.
Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit ends with her no longer understanding her place in the world. She is uncertain about the existence of god or his place in her life. All she knows is that her place is no longer with that family.
We do not know where she went from there but we can assume that she left in confidence and went somewhere more accepting. It is ultimately a story of hope but we are left to fill in the rest. I know many readers don’t like open endings but life is nothing but open endings. This is the story of her adolescence and growing up, not the story of what happens after. Once she has a revelation about oranges a different story begins.
Personally, this story is very relatable but I realize that not all readers are bisexual women who were raised by zealous christians with a deep mistrust of public schools and government programs like I am.
For those of you who don’t fall into that category this book is still wonderfully written and tells a powerful story of this type of experience. It shows how damaging this kind of thought can be to those who don’t fall within the accepted mindset of their peers.
4/5 oranges 🍊🍊🍊🍊
To summarize the summary, this book is about a young lesbian raised in a very strict church environment. She deals with the guilt of sin and not knowing her place in the world outside of her upbringing
Set during the 1960s in an unknown English town
The title of the novella is a reference to the main character’s mother bringing her oranges while she is ill. Her mother only brings her oranges, symbolizing the world her mother has created for her throughout her young life. She grows to learn that oranges, her mother’s way, are not the only fruit, the only way to live a life.