The Consuming Fruit: Oranges, Demons, and Daughters

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Author: Keryn Carter
Editor: Janet Witalec
Date: 2002
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 3,936 words

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[(essay date fall 1998) In the following essay, Carter explores the mother-daughter relationship in Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, arguing that Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre acts as a mother-text for the heroine, Jeannette.]

The narrator of Jeanette Winterson's Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit cites two of the most painful events of her childhood as follows: first, the moment in which she discovered, by reading Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre for herself, that her mother had been rewriting the ending of Brontë's story when reading it out loud to her (72-73). In the mother's version, Jane Eyre marries St. John Rivers and the couple become missionaries. The narrator of Oranges views her mother's revision as an act of betrayal and refuses to read Jane Eyre ever again. She then states that that event was just as shattering as the moment when she discovered her adoption papers hidden away in the back of a drawer. Although I am certain the discovery that one is adopted would be momentous, the intensity of the experience involving Jane Eyre is perhaps more difficult to comprehend. Nevertheless it offers tantalizing possibilities for the literary critic.

Those two events, fused into the narrative as almost a single experience of betrayal by the mother, form the starting point of my article. I intend to read Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by concentrating on several closely related issues that, for me, grow out of those narratorial "revelations" and, more generally, out of the text's representation of its central mother-daughter relationship. My paper falls into two sections: in the first I will discuss Oranges in the light of Julia Kristeva's theory of abjection; in the second I will put forward the argument that Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre occupies the space of a mother-text for Winterson's heroine.

As an introduction I want to make explicit some associated ideas that I hope the title of this paper will set into play. With the title "The Consuming Fruit: Oranges, Demons, and Daughters," I have tried to evoke the image of a "fruit"--in this case a child and the text's shifting symbol of the orange--as active, as dynamic, and as possessing at least the potential to consume that which threatens to consume it. The "demon" refers to the "orange demon" that the heroine first encounters when she is locked in her mother's parlor for thirty-six hours (106) as a punishment for her "Unnatural Passions" (16). The orange demon is linked to Jeanette's distinctive creativity, her humor, her lesbianism, to all those qualities that the people around her would have her hold in check. Her conversation with the demon can, of course, be explained away as an hallucination, but so too can Jane Eyre's uncanny, and much discussed, experience in the red-room at Gateshead Hall (Brontë 18-20).

In The Powers of Horror, Kristeva discusses the drive within societies to "dam up the abject or demoniacal potential of the feminine" that does not "respect boundaries" and refuses to take up its position as...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1100043079