“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.