In Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson, china represents the foundation for the belief system that Jeanette develops throughout the novel. A strong foundation is made up of evidence and the reasoning behind your views. When Jeanette is younger, her mother imposes her strong beliefs about the Bible on her by putting these beliefs on various types of china and showing her a variety of evidence to support her beliefs. As Jeanette discovers her sexual orientation, she learns about Mrs. Jewsbury’s reasoning for her beliefs.
She begins to accept china from both her mother and others, and learns how to combine her childhood with ideas based in experience. All of Jeanette’s beliefs are based off of a foundation made up of evidence, which enables her to be passionate about her beliefs and develop a unified belief system. In order to determine what you believe in, childhood views must be combined with ideas rooted in experience to create a strong foundation for each individual belief, as well as a larger one for the entire system of beliefs.
China represents the foundation for beliefs, one that Winterson declares necessary in order to develop independent beliefs. When Jeanette discusses food during World War II, and the effect of knowing what you are eating she concludes: “And so when someone tells me what they heard or saw, I believe them, and I believe their friend who also saw, but not in the same way, and I can put these accounts together and I will not have a seamless wonder but a sandwich laced with mustard of my own. (95) Winterson directly states that by believing two different accounts will create “a sandwich laced with mustard of my own,” meaning that beliefs translate into food and food is a motif for beliefs. In order to develop these beliefs, there must be evidence and reasoning behind these beliefs that are combined to create a foundation.
After Jeanette returns home to her weekend with Katy, she tells her mother that her affair with Melanie never ended, leaving her mother furious: “my mother smashed every plate in the kitchenette. There’s no supper,’ she told her husband when he came in off the late shift. There’s nothing to eat it off’” (130). The food that would be served represents beliefs, but without anything to hold them, they cannot be consumed. Jeanette’s mother wants Jeanette to use her ideas by consuming the food that she would serve on these plates. Since Jeanette has developed her own beliefs, her mother destroys all of the evidence for beliefs so that Jeanette cannot consume any more beliefs.
In order to formulate beliefs, Jeanette and her family need plates, evidence supporting these beliefs. This evidence is the basis for ideas and enables Jeanette to take a stance on others’ views and develop her own beliefs. As a child, Jeanette unquestioningly accepts her mother’s beliefs, and lets her use supporting evidence to impose these beliefs on her. When Jeanette is in the hospital, her mother visits and brings her a bag of oranges: “then my mother prodded me, put her letter on the bedside cabinet, and emptied a huge bag of oranges into the bowl by my water jug” (27).
The bowl is provided by the hospital and is given to every patient, which indicates that everyone needs some kind of evidence, but you choose what the evidence supports. When Jeanette’s mother puts a “huge bag of oranges” into the bowl, she fills the evidence with her beliefs, and changes the purpose of the bowl from simply the presence of evidence to evidence that is used to support her beliefs. Since Jeanette is a child here, she lets her mother do this without thinking about the effects. Although everyone has different beliefs, the existence of the partnership between beliefs and evidence supporting them is universal.
The foundations of Jeanette’s childhood are used as an attempt to purify Jeanette, however they do not succeed because the evidence supporting these beliefs is no longer enough to make Jeanette revert back to the Church’s belief system. Upon discovering Jeanette’s sexual orientation, her mother and the Church decide to cleanse her in an attempt to make her fit in with their beliefs again. The elders come to her house and pray, and Jeanette’s mother makes tea: “my mother made cups of tea and forgot to wash the dirty ones.
The parlour was full of cups. Mrs. White sat on one and cut herself, someone else split theirs, but they didn’t stop” (107). Jeanette’s mother serves the elders the beliefs that they all share. Although there is a large amount of evangelical Christian beliefs being served, the cups, or evidence is being piled up, but it isn’t translating into beliefs. The evidence begins to become dangerous; “Mrs. White sat on one and cut herself, someone else split theirs,” indicating that evidence becomes problematic when it exists without beliefs.
The reasoning behind Jeanette’s childhood beliefs are used as an attempt to heal her, however they fail, illustrating that this evidence is no longer enough of a foundation to support her belief system because her beliefs have changed. Adult belief systems cannot be formed based only on childhood beliefs that prevail; ideas based in experience must be combined with childhood beliefs in order to create a complete foundation. When Jeanette goes to Mrs. Jewsbury’s house, she discusses her relationship with Melanie and Mrs. Jewsbury offers her a drink: “Melanie and I were special. Drink this. ’ She gave me a glass” (106).
Mrs. Jewsbury presents Jeanette with part of the evidence supporting her beliefs in a time where Jeanette is disconnected from her church due to her relationship with Melanie. The glass presents evidence for why people such as herself choose to believe in things that contradict the beliefs of the Church. Because of her relationship with Melanie, Jeanette becomes an outcast from the church, but this glass offers her an opportunity to learn about the reasoning behind unfamiliar belief systems.
Mrs. Jewsbury does not ask Jeanette if she wants the glass, instead, she commands her to “‘drink this’” and hands her the cup, because in order to formulate strong beliefs, you must know the reasoning behind them. She introduces her to the rationale of her beliefs and tells her to try these, as an alternative to her childhood views. In order for Jeanette to formulate a belief system of her own, learn the reasoning behind views supported by her experience and incorporate that reasoning with supporting evidence for views of her childhood.
Each individual belief must have one foundation supporting this belief, however pieces of evidence can be used to support multiple beliefs. After Elsie tells Jeanette that she knew about her sexuality and told Mrs. Jewsbury, Jeanette leaves, and continues walking around town. She pauses outside a house and observes the scene inside: “for a moment I leaned on the wall; the stone was warm and through the window I could see a family round the fire. Their tea table had been left, chairs, table and the right number of cups” (133).
This table has “the right number of cups,” meaning that there is one cup per person. Even though multiple people may be consuming the same belief, for example, if the are all drinking the same thing, everyone must determine why they believe in it and gather their own evidence to support that belief. Even though “their tea table had been left,” and they are no longer consuming beliefs, the foundation still remains. Without evidence, beliefs cannot be developed and therefore no one is able to believe in it.
In any environment in which beliefs are being developed, someone must ensure that everyone knows the reasoning behind these beliefs. At school, Jeanette is often selected to be dinner monitor, a necessary, but undesirable role: “dinner monitor meant that you had to make sure everybody had a plate and that the water jug didn’t have bits in it” (37). It is Jeanette’s job to make sure that everyone has evidence for their beliefs and knows why they believe in them. The job of the dinner monitor was created in order to ensure that everyone has a foundation so that the students’ beliefs are strong and based in evidence.
In addition to this, she must make sure that the communal foundation, the water jug, doesn’t “have bits in it”. A foundation must be clean in order to function properly, because if it contains conflicting ideas it will no longer be pure, and will change the belief that stems from it. To have beliefs, every idea must be held by its own individual stable foundation. In order to develop a belief system, there must be a larger foundation that is the basis for all of the ideas in the system.
When Jeanette returns home for Christmas, she reflects on her family life and realizes: “families, real ones, are chairs and tables and the right number of cups, but I had no means of joining one, and no means of dismissing my own; she [Jeanette’s mother] had tied a thread around my button, to tug when she pleased” (176). Jeanette acknowledges that a real family is made up of “the right number of cups,” meaning that a family shares common beliefs, but everyone justifies their beliefs themselves. Even though their foundations are similar, every family member must validate these beliefs for themselves based on their experiences.
Since her family does not fit these conditions, she determines that she cannot be a part of a real family. She is accepts that she has “no means of joining one, and no means of dismissing [her] own”. It is not possible for her to leave her family for a real family, because this would mean formulating a completely new belief system filled with beliefs that are not supported by her life experiences. The combination of all of Jeanette’s foundations is very different from those of other families, but she is unable to pursue another belief system because it would not be supported by her experiences.
In Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit Jeanette Winterson uses the motif of china to illustrate the necessity of the development of strong foundations, and their role in creating individual beliefs and formulating a belief system. Foundations are necessary for all of Jeanette’s beliefs and ideas, both theological and non-theological. Once Jeanette learns that views of her childhood can coexist with ideas based in her experience, she accepts china from individuals with different beliefs so that she learn more about these beliefs. This foundation enables Jeanette to find satisfaction in her life and develop a belief system of her own.