The Only Fruit

“When [my mother] couldn’t come herself she sent my father, usually with a letter and a couple of oranges.  ‘The only fruit,’ she always said.” (page 29)


“…I thought in this city, a past was precisely that.  Past.  Why do I have to remember?” (page 160)

In terms of symbolic imagery used, the orange in Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit clearly stands out as the most important.  An autobiography detailing Jeanette Winterson’s process of discovering her sexuality and undergoing the traumatic process of coming out, she often, and sometimes subtly, weaves in the concept of oranges- either as the fruit or the color.  The orange references help reflect a variety of things, like her tumultuous relationship with her mother and her budding sexuality.  However, all of those things go on to merge into a larger entity, which is what the oranges truly represent, and that is her past life, the one that was lost to her and she never sought to retrieve.

It’s no secret that Winterson’s mother is incapable of properly nurturing her, which is displayed time and time again through her reluctance and coldness towards her daughter.  Although, her mother does feel the need to establish some sort of connection with her, which is how the oranges are introduced.  When Winterson loses her hearing as a child and is forced to go to a hospital, her mother simply hands her an orange to get her to stop crying and leaves.  Then later on, after Winterson is starved and forced to repent for the sin of her lesbian relationship, her mother gives her a bowl of oranges, and she is incapable of peeling them.  This gives Winterson an almost conditioned mindset to associate oranges with not only her mother, but the punishments that came along with her sexuality when she first decided to indulge in it.  And the fact that it was only one fruit that she came to associate these things with, develops into the bigger picture of why the book is titled the way it is.  She was never allowed any other options, fruit wise, which also hinted to Winterson that there was also only one right and absolute way to live life.  The oranges served to remind her that she was only given one option, and that trying to deviate from that would be sinful.  After leaving home, she develops a clear distaste for her mother and her past, which leads her to the revelations that she doesn’t have to abide by the one lifestyle that was thrust upon her, and that oranges are not the only fruit.

3 thoughts on “The Only Fruit”

  1. I think you raise some really excellent points about the relationship between Jeanette, her mother and the oranges. The idea that oranges were once used to comfort, as was the case when she was in the hospitable, and are now seen as a tool of her mother’s abuse is a key one to understanding Jeanette and the book as a whole. I think it’s also worth noting that at the end of the book, Jeanette’s mother finally concedes that oranges are not the only fruit, at the same time that she seems to warm up to Jeanette.

  2. I think this analysis of the book is spot on. It is apparent that there is a connection in Winterson’s mind between between Oranges and her limited options. Having the Orange stand in to represent her past life, its clear that her movement away from the fruit symbolizes her moving away from her past. This stands in contrast to Alan Turing in the “Imitation Game” where he copes with his past by trying not to let go of it. In the movie, Turing, a gay man, loses a dear friend of his, Christopher, to bovine tuberculosis. Turing is blindsided by his “first true love’s” loss and is forced to conceal his emotion out of fear of being discovered to being gay. Turing, in his late twenties, ends up working for the British Government during World War II inorder to crack the Nazi coding device, Enigma. Turing develops a machine in order to crack the code and names it Christopher, symbolizing his love for his boyhood love. When Turing is discovered to be a gay man by the government and is forced to take hormone changing pills despite the fact that he is a war hero, he holds on to his past by saving the machine. For Turing, the past symbolizes a more innocent time, one in which he wishes he still lived in.

  3. There are some valid point emerging here in reference to Jeanette’s lifestyle and her mother’s opinion on it. There is a denial for accepting who Jeanette is and her mother repeatedly throws religion in Jeanette’s face to prove that any non religious path she may be taking is wrong and should be stopped. Using the quote, I think it is important to take out the fact “oranges” can be associated with her mother’s forced ideas that are constantly fed to her to remind her what kind of woman she must be.

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