The Shaming of Heathens

I found the beginning of the “Leviticus” chapter in Jeanette Winterson’s Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit to be a fascinating account of the struggle between Heathens (those who do not believe in a major religion) and those who follow the “Word” of God. In this particular passage, we see a struggle between two neighbors play out on a Sunday, during which the neighbors are “fornicating” loudly, “On a Sunday”, no less (Winterson, 54). Then, in response, they run to the piano and begin playing hymns from the Redemption Hymnal, provoking an aggressive response from the Heathens next door:

“The hymn had a rousing chorus that moved my mother to such an extent that she departed entirely from the notation of the Redemption Hymnal, and instead wrought her own huge chords that sounded the length of the piano. No note was exempt. By the time we got to verse 3, Next Door had started to bang on the wall.”

I find a few things significant from this particular passage. It could be said that with her “depart[ing] entirely” from what is written in the Hymnal, she is committing a violation of the strict Word of God, by straying away from what is written. In a way, she is committing sin just like the neighbors next door. What is more likely is that she is interpreting the Word in her own way by playing the music loudly in retaliation for the sins that occurred next door.

Another eye-catching feature of this passage is the capitalization of the words “Next Door”. Throughout the passage, Winterson capitalizes certain words such as “Word”, “World Service”, “Heathen”, “Deuteronomy”. In reference to and contextualized with the Bible, these words are meant to be capitalized. However, the capitalization of the enemy “Next Door” suggests that not only are they the enemy, getting in the way of this family’s Sunday, but are satanic and evil in doing so. This is what I would call the process of “Satanization” – the Heathens “Next Door” are committing sins so horrible that they are literally becoming Satan – which is just disguised as “Next Door”. “Satan” is always capitalized in the Bible, just as God is.

One thought on “The Shaming of Heathens”

  1. Upon first reading the passage, I, too, noticed the stylistic decision of capitalizing “Next Door.” However, I had not considered it to be an allusion to Satan until reading your reasoning. While I certainly resonate with that, I question if Winterson had that intention while writing, or if she simply capitalizes to show the juxtaposition between good and evil, not necessarily just God and Satan.

    Very interesting, though.

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