The entire spectrum of fruit, in this interpretive view, would go on to represent the entire spectrum of gender–the mother’s efforts to impose oranges as the only good fruit go on to represent efforts to approach a single gender or sexual orientation has valid and legitimate.As can be expected, the mother’s views toward fruit also apply towards her views on gender and sexuality: “I remembered the famous incident of the man who’d come to our church with his boyfriend. ‘Should have been a woman that one,’ my mother had remarked” (127).Much later on in the novel, when Jeanette gets slightly ill, her mother brings her a bowl of oranges, and the following scenario takes place: I took out the largest and tried to peel it.
Notice that she has trouble accessing the orange’s pulp, which can symbolize the difficulty that Jeanette has towards complying with a simplistic, limited, heteronormative view of the world.
It would be much easier for her to eat grapes or bananas, however, we observe that Jeanette’s mother is still coercing her to struggle with oranges.
Although Jeanette’s development and moral growth is most certainly the focus of this novel, a lot of the content is focused on her strange relationship with her mother, and even more so, on the mother’s blind and ritualistic devotion to her church.
The mother desperately tries to shield Jeanette from evils, especially those associated with gender and sexuality.
For instance, when Jeanette develops a friendship with an ostensibly lesbian couple that runs a paper shop, the mother soon forbids Jeanette from going to that store because there was a rumor that “they dealt in unnatural passions” (7).
Seeing as the mother doesn’t speak to her daughter about matters of gender, sexuality, and the body, Jeanette naively believes that “unnatural passions” are referring to the fact that the couple puts chemicals in their sweets.
(27) It is in this moment that Jeanette begins her process of development and maturation: it is the moment in which she realizes that her mother doesn’t have all of the right answers, and neither does the church.
Thus, rather than resorting to donning the mother’s ideological perspective of the world, which consists of viewing things as either good or bad, Jeanette must learn to challenge herself to explore areas of contradiction and ambiguity that do not necessarily conform with the notions of right or wrong.
Jeanette realizes that her condition is due to biological processes rather than spiritual rapture, and it is in this moment that she begins to question the perfection and infallibility of her church: Since I was born I had assumed that the world ran on very simple lines, like a larger version of our church.
Now I was finding that even the church was sometimes confused. But not one I chose to deal with for many years more.