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Jamie Walker 13B1

Mr Robinson

Compare how Winterson and Duffy present relationships, in light of


the opinion that role models are flawed influences in Oranges are
Not the Only Fruit and Feminine Gospels

The influence of role models is prevalent throughout Winterson’s Oranges are Not the Only

Fruit through the characters of Jeanette’s mother and Church members, similarly Duffy’s

Feminine Gospels narrate the influence figures such as Marilyn Monroe have had on people

as well as the impact having no one to look up to has on a person. Both writers put

particular emphasis on their narrators’ impressionability and how aspects of their idols (or

absence of) have shaped their identities for better and for worse which are perpetuated as

both authors were lesbians growing up before the normalisation of gay culture as well as

Winterson’s emancipation from her adoptive mother.

In Winterson’s Oranges are Not the Only Fruit (OANTOF), Jeanette’s identity is

shaped meticulously by her mother from a young age to produce a “missionary” that “can

change the world”. Jeanette’s mother’s actions elevate her to a position of godliness as she

“invented theology” which displays her sanctimonious viewpoint since she can manipulate

the words of God in an, ironically, almost blasphemous manner bordering on heresy.

Furthermore, Jeanette’s mother’s self-elevation layers further the role of Jeanette as her

creation with Jeanette serving as Adam being ushered into this new world which is being

built by Pastor Finch “converting the heathens” which emphasises the strong, militant

Evangelical practices of the faith as well as a cultish attitude in the action of conversion in

“in the jungle” which highlights the autonomous nature of the church reflective of

Jeanette’s upbringing with one strict figure controlling all aspects of her identity.

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Jamie Walker 13B1
Mr Robinson

The figure of the dictator-like matriarch is also seen through the character of Dr

Bream in Duffy’s The Laughter of Stafford Girls’ High. Furthermore, the tyrant’s oppressive

regime is represented through roped learning in the poem which reduces the girls’ ability to

express themselves. Similar to Jeanette’s mother, Dr Bream is set in her ways being “garbed

in her Cambridge cap and gown” with the reference to Cambridge University displaying a

traditional form of thinking and learning which is enforced on the girls through roped

learning of “the rivers of England”. The motif of lists in the lessons develops a monotonous

tone which creates an air of boredom which displays a lack of opportunity for expression in

the school which is exaggerated through the names of the girls all having four syllables

which shows they’re all treated identically and lack individuality.

This contrasts Jeanette’s mother’s fears in OANTOF due to her mother’s fears that

Jeanette will develop an independence in the “Breeding Ground”, yet the students in Duffy’s

poem are just as restricted. The control Mrs Winterson has over Jeanette in OANTOF is so

intense and vital for the power dynamic that Jeanette’s mother’s “face fell” when she learnt

Jeanette would have to attend the “Breeding Ground”. Jeanette attending school threatens

her mother as Jeanette would be educated about science and other religions that Jeanette’s

mother would not have tolerated as they do not coincide with her personal beliefs.

Therefore, for the first time in the novel, Jeanette has an opportunity to develop her own

views that would have otherwise been oppressed by her mother and the other Church

members.

The long-standing effects of containment or being “trapped in the window’s bottle-

thick glass like a fly” can be seen in Duffy’s The Map-Woman in which the titular character is

“trapped” displaying her inability to escape and her insignificance shown by the simile

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Jamie Walker 13B1
Mr Robinson

comparing her to a “fly”. Similar to Jeanette, the Map-Woman is shaped by her parents to

the point where as an adult she feels “her father’s house pressing into the bone”; the

homely and cosy connotations of “house” are corrupted through the violent image of

“pressing into the bone” which suggests sadism and malice which is exaggerated through

the clinical language of “bone” which suggests an apathetic “father”. Duffy’s poem seems to

flip the power dynamics seen in OANTOF in that The Map-Woman is ruled by a patriarchal

pressure as opposed to a matriarch like Jeanette’s mother. The patriarchal control is

furthered as “mothers… wives… nuns… their bodies fading” displays the lack of impression

women leave as “fading” suggests nothingness and forgetting and the use of tripling

emphasises the plethora of women who have been ignored by history and are “fading” into

obscurity. Furthermore, the theme of containment is also expressed in The Laughter of

Stafford Girls’ High as Dr Bream “stared from her hospital window” which shows Dr Bream

as being restricted by the healthcare system reflecting the lack of knowledge about mental

health and treatment of mental disorders in the 1960s. Furthermore, the use of “stared”

infers a longing or wish to leave and return to the world similar to that of The Map-Woman.

Jeanette criticises at her mother’s point of view throughout the novel, particularly in

the earlier chapters to allude to her younger self’s impressionability and adoration for her

mother, furthermore due to the reflective structure of the novel with an older Jeanette

narrating on her past experiences. Differences in Jeanette and her mother’s viewpoints are

noticed from the onset since Jeanette’s mother was “wrong as far as we were concerned

but right as far as she was” which displays that even as a child, Jeanette disagreed with her

mother and noticed when she was incorrect or bigoted. Moreover, the sardonic and

humorous tone of the first-person narrative adds a level of absurdism to the novel to reflect

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Jamie Walker 13B1
Mr Robinson

the inane beliefs of Mrs Winterson and the blissful ignorance of the young, impressionable

Jeanette who thought the sweet shop owners “put chemicals in the sweets”. The comical

tone used removes the power and intensity held by Jeanette’s mother which reflects the

older Jeanette’s realisations and newly gained opposition against her mother. In addition,

this reflects Winterson’s own distancing from her adoptive mother, furthered by the semi-

autobiographical form of the novel, since Winterson emancipated herself from her adoptive

mother due to her mother’s treatment of her in her youth as reflected in Winterson’s

memoir Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? which describes the events that led to

her emancipation, many of which appear in OANTOF. Winterson’s separation from her

adoptive mother is display in the novel through Jeanette’s final realisations that “two

realities are claiming them at the same time” which reflects Jeanette’s acceptance of the

conflicts in her life that she still has faith in God but some of his “not very holy”

missionaries.

The realisation of the flawed role model can also be seen in Feminine Gospels: Duffy

investigates role models through the idolisation of celebrities in the poem Beautiful. The

narrator describes Marilyn Monroe as being “born from an egg”, elevating her to a godly

status due to the classical allusion to the birth of Artemis, “daughter of the gods”. However,

this serene image of the narrator’s idol is corrupted when she “made him fuck her as a lad”.

The use of profanity removes the figure from her pedestal making her more common due to

the vulgar language which is furthered through a distancing from the chaste goddess she

was formally compared to. Additionally, the mention of the “lad” infers male pressure and

hyper-masculinity. However, a feminist reading could argue her power as she “made him”

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Jamie Walker 13B1
Mr Robinson

do this which displays her power, yet implies manipulation and coercion displaying a tainted

aspect of wickedness in the ‘goddess’.

The aspect of wickedness is furthered when the idol is compared to Helen of Troy

whose face launched “a thousand ships”. Both figures are famed for their “tough beauty”

which highlights a male pressure for the importance of appearance as Helen of Troy was

created to satisfy Paris’ desire for the most beautiful woman and Marilyn Monroe was

marketed as a sex symbol in Hollywood to increase film profits. This comparison also

narrates that women can use these male pressures to their advantage as Helen utilised her

looks to begin the Trojan War to be rescued from her abductor and Monroe used her sex

appeal to garner fortune. Another reading of this could see this female power as ironic since

it still relies on male intervention: Helen needed her husband to rescue her and Marilyn

relied on male approval. Therefore the speaker recognises flaws in their role model, thus

their divine view becomes corrupted as they begin to notice Marilyn’s strength was

dependent on external forces.

The speaker’s doubts are cemented as they realise their idol’s legacy is merely visual.

The speaker remarks “her face was surely a star” which displays how Monroe was famous

for her looks: it wasn’t her that was a “star” but her “face”. Consequently, this demonstrates

the importance of beauty in a patriarchal business and its sexist expectations. Therefore, the

narrator loses faith in their idol because Monroe was only able to leave a legacy corrupted

by “history’s stinking breath in her face”. An element of scrutiny and observation is

displayed in the form of “stinking breath in her face” due to the image of closeness that is

tainted by the adjective “stinking”. The fallen idol is cemented when the narrator asserts

“beauty is fate”: the narrator accepts the cycle of scrutiny and the inevitability of the male

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Jamie Walker 13B1
Mr Robinson

gaze expressed through the dishonouring of her beloved role model and “history” as a

whole.

Conversely, in “White Writing” the absence of role models allows for the narrator to

have a pure love without being impacted by those who came before; she is allowed to

explore her sexuality and her relationships in her own way and truly form her own identity

in her sexuality. A theme of intimacy is seen “in the soft hours of our married years” which

adds an element of secrecy to the relationship revealing that it’s a private affair. This

introduces the love as personal, making it more romantic that the relationship is still just as

valid even if it doesn’t have a contract or “vows to wed you” which comments on the lack of

marriage equality in 2002, a time before civil partnerships. Therefore, the passage and

frequent use of marital language could be seen as a negative reflection on society’s lack of

equality for homosexuals. Another reading could argue that the lovers have more freedom

as they aren’t bound to a societal convention: the lovers, ironically, become more liberated

by being restricted.

The excessive use of natural imagery and the inclusion of anaphora reminds the

narrator there are “no rules to guide you”, displaying the incessant pressures society puts

on lovers to marry and the tradition of it. Each stanza begins with the anaphoric phrase then

transitions into natural imagery to symbolise a reduction in societal invention in the lovers’

affairs which could show the lovers distancing themselves from an unaccepting society to

find their own freedom elsewhere. Another reading could argue that it shows society

becoming more accepting to homosexual relationships: in 2002, Britain had been exposed

to a huge influx of gay culture due to the rise of public figures like Elton John and TV shows

like Queer as Folk. The normalisation of the homosexual relationship is strengthened by the

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Jamie Walker 13B1
Mr Robinson

structure of the poem as the imagery and techniques mirror a Romantic poem similar to

that of Byron or Blake as the genre often is concerned with the individual rejecting society

and moving into nature. Thus, it demonstrates homosexuality as something normal and

natural rather than radical which is represented by “foam on a wave” which displays the

delicacy of the relationship as well as its inconstancy through the elemental imagery linking

to the ever-changing sea. Moreover, the use of a “wave” displays one small part of the

sheer immensity of an ocean promoting the sublime, another Romantic feature. The

frequency of Romantic techniques displays Duffy’s subversion of the genre to tell the stories

of female homosexual relationships as opposed to male-centric heterosexual tales that end

with sex, instead Duffy focuses on the intimacy of a relationship. Winterson also subverts

traditional conventions of romance when Jeannette firsts spots Melanie “boning a kipper”.

The typical depiction of ‘love at first sight’ is made comical through the grotesque action of

Melanie mutilating a fish as Jeannette lays eyes on her.

In conclusion, in Oranges are Not the Only Fruit, Winterson presents Jeanette’s

mother as a stubborn and egotistical woman that serves as Jeanette’s major influence

during her upbringing that, overtime, Jeanette notices flaws in as she begins to develop her

own thinking and identity. This is similar to the speaker’s realisation that their role models

are not entirely virtuous in Duffy’s Beautiful which displays the lasting impression these role

models leave on impressionable children similar to the Map-Woman’s parents and

Jeanette’s mother’s harsh control and surveillance over Jeanette’s formation of thought

which is seen in The Laughter of Stafford Girls’ High through the enforcement of roped

learning. Rather both writers conclude that it is beneficial for children to form their own

identities and beliefs without external pressures as best seen through the absence of

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Jamie Walker 13B1
Mr Robinson

prominent gay figures in OANTOF and White Writing: both include characters that enter

realistic and intimate relationships not different from heterosexual ones.

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