Symbolism In Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit

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When one is asked the common question, “are you a dog person or a cat person,” it is assumed that there is only one option. Dogs are trustworthy, devoted, and carefree, while cats are independent, aloof, and sometimes even somber (especially to a “dog person”). To most, the two household pets are polar opposites despite serving the same purpose: being a source of comfort outside usual human interactions. In Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, Jeanette’s family has a dog their entire life, which makes the animal a symbol that she will always tie back to her strict home life. However, the only experience she has with cats are with the one Next Door, something that is established as an “enemy” on the very first page. Because they are so rare to her, …show more content…
One Sunday, Jeanette and her family could hear the impure behavior happening Next Door: “‘They’re fornicating,’ cried my mother, rushing to put her hands over my ears. ‘Get off,’ I yelled. The dog started barking” (54). During the crude scene, Jeanette’s mother immediately runs to mask Jeanette from what is happening. This sinful sex goes against the core values of their church, and Jeanette is often separated from the truth about the world by her mother in order to uphold the values she has always been taught, such as when her mother changes the ending of Jane Eyre (76). The image of the dog barking just after Jeanette’s ears are covered suggests commotion. The reader is aware that there is a commotion occurring, because of how everyone acts in the scene, but it is more subtle that of all other objects attention is drawn to the dog. The dog’s barking is to show that something within the ideology that dogs represent is being threatened. Dogs’ carefree nature can almost make them seem oblivious, especially compared to the observant and focused cat, and this scene represents a corruption of that symbol. When Jeanette yells “Get off” to her mother, it shows that she does not want to be sheltered anymore and is more curious, like a …show more content…
As Jeanette and her mother are looking through the Old Flames book, Jeanette describes: “Right at the bottom of the page was a yellowy picture of a pretty woman holding a cat” (37). The picture mysteriously disappears after that moment. Although this moment is never brought up again or explained in any way, the suspicious nature of a woman in the Old Flames book makes it clear that Jeanette’s mother may have experimented at some point with a woman or performed some other condemned act under their church. The fact that this woman is holding a cat may seem like an irrelevant detail, however it is a symbol for sexuality outside of heterosexuality. This is proven when Winterson brings up cats later upon Jeanette’s first encounter with Melanie, which leads to the reveal of Jeanette’s homosexuality: “She looked up, and I noticed her eyes were a lovely grey, like the cat Next Door” (82). The immediate correlation between a cat and Melanie as the character’s first description is indicative of the symbol’s direct meaning of Jeanette’s lesbianism. As this trait is obviously very undesirable to Jeanette’s mother and her church, the cat itself is unpleasant to Jeanette’s mom simply as an animal. A cat is a household pet that requires little care, and given the amount of attention Jeanette’s family gives

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