Tuesday, 31 August 2010

A Critical Appreciation of 'Oranges are not the Only Fruit'

The novel Oranges are not the only Fruit is a post-modern story of a young girl's rebellion from the idiosyncratic dominance of her mother and her hypocritical yet occult-like Christianity. The young girl, Jeanette, is the protagonist but also the narrator of the book, leading to a heavy sense of self-reference and creating an allegory of the twisted two-faced church that Jeanette has had to live within for her life.

Jeanette's mother plays a significant yet underplayed role in her own personal development as a child. It is not stated explicitly that her mother had an effect on Jeanette's conscious thought, but as the narration indulges temperately into a stream-of-consciousness style it is possible to deduce her thought pattern through her wording. This is predominantly evident when it is stated by Jeanette that her mother “wanted the Mormons to knock on her door,” the italics on 'wanted' emphasising the stubbornness to conform shown by her mother, and that “in a Labour mill town she put a picture of the Conservative candidate in the window”. These are both examples of her mother's rebellion against the society and culture she lives in herself – the fact that she is consciously going against what is deemed as right in the culture she resides within is a visible archetype that Jeanette follows in the future; the desire to fight against what she knows is acceptable in order to maintain personal integrity are key features of both Jeanette and her mother's character.

Furthering this point, Jeanette's mother has a very 'black and white' perspective on things; the list of enemies and friends represents this perfectly: “Enemies were: The Devil (in his many forms), Next Door, Sex (in it's many forms), Slugs. Friends were: God, Our dog, Auntie Madge, The novels Of Charlotte Brontë, Slug pellets.” Interestingly, the novels of Charlotte Brontë appears in this list, next to God and slug pellets. Whilst this simply appears to be a way of portraying her mother as a hypocritical Christian, it does more than just give insight to her mother's twisted religious beliefs but proves that her mother has also formed Jeanette as a person, in terms of thought process and how she lives her life. Jane Eyre was Charlotte Brontë's most famous book, and it has a single yet distinguishing similarity to Oranges are not the only Fruit: it is written as a Bildungsroman – a traditional genre about a protagonist coming of age and going through a journey in order to attain personal enlightenment and social acceptance, usually with the protagonist being allowed once again to enter the society they knew. 'Oranges' is an example of a Post-Modern take on this genre; instead of ending with the protagonist being re-emerged into the lost culture, Jeanette is still shunned, and her mother shows only the slightest bit of acceptance. It is, in essence, a distorted Bildungsroman. The fact that Jeanette has used and deformed a literary technique of her mother's favourite writer truly portrays that she has accepted the lessons her mother has put upon her and has decided to further her own horizons by going against these teachings.

Oranges are not the Only Fruit has a dry and quite sadistic sense of humour throughout, and Jeanette's adult narration truly accentuates the childishness of the young Jeanette character; creating a strange and subtle humour. This is strongly visible when Jeanette states that “One of my earliest memories is me sitting on a sheep at Easter while she told me the story of the Sacrificial Lamb. We had it on Sundays with potato.” The simple yet twisted humour seems both simultaneously sophisticated and childish in manner – it details the hypocrisy of her mother's faith yet is written in retrospect in the form of a child. Jeanette is a peculiarly innocent protagonist with little understanding of the real world, but this is underpinned by the narration of the older Jeanette; a much wiser character who, in her reflection of the events, has been enlightened on how hypocritical her mother's parenting was.

Jeanette's mother, having a substantial effect on Jeanette's life, is an interesting character. She may create the vast majority of humour within the book, but there is a constant underlying sense of her tyranny within her personality. She appears to use Jeanette as a tool for her own religious ambitions; predominantly evident when Jeanette states “we had a lot of Bible quizzes and my mother like me to win.” Although it is evident at first that this is Jeanette's mother being tyrannical, the point can be furthered when looked at in parallel with the idea of her being jealous of the “Virgin Mary getting there first” and essentially believing she was in competition with the Virgin Mary to having an immaculate conception. Although this very idea seems preposterous to those within regular society, Jeanette and her mother are distinctively apart from the regular social norms. Jeanette's mother is a hypocrite to her religion, and she is unstable as a character. This has a heavy affect on Jeanette's life, and her later decisions within the book are strongly influenced by her mother.