The depiction of religion and homosexuality in "Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit"

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2004

24 Pages, Grade: 1,3



1 Introduction

2 Representation of religion
2.1 Religion as fanaticism
2.2 Stylistic devices in the film

3 Representation of homosexuality
3.1 The Title of the film
3.2 Naturalization of lesbianism
3.3 Stylistic devices in the film

4 Conflicts between religion and lesbianism
4.1 Community vs. Jeanette/Jess
4.2 Mother-Daughter-Relationship
4.3 Jeanette’s/Jess’ inner conflict

5 Conclusion


Works cited

1 Introduction

The drama Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit[1] tells the story of a young lesbian girl, Jeanette/Jess[2], who is raised in a repressive Pentecostal home by an overpowering mother. Jess tries to find her sexual identity in the context of the fanatical Pentecostal church[3]. Although Jess herself does not have any problems with her sexuality combined with her religiosity at all, she gets into a conflict with the Christian community and into a deep inner conflict because the church regards her sexuality as a sin and herself as possessed by demons.

This paper discusses how the different conflicts in the story arise and which impact the film’s way of representing religion and lesbianism has on the viewer. It demonstrates how the ways in which the novel and the film version of Oranges present lesbianism work to naturalize and normalize it.

By its representation of lesbian love and the church as its enemy Oranges challenges normative values and conventional standards. Oranges makes an attempt to reverse the viewer’s former attitudes towards these opponents.

2 Representation of religion

2.1 Religion as fanaticism

Oranges shows Pentecostal evangelists who could, because of their fanatical belief, also be described as sectarians. Mostly women belong to this church, they are not very sophisticated and so they believe in miracles and demons. The pastor is an authority and is admired by most of the women. He defines what is good and what is bad, what is natural or unnatural and consequently a sin. The community members are very fixed in their religious belief. They regard everything and everyone either as the work of God or as the work of the devil.

A very striking example of the society’s single-mindedness is its misconception of Jeanette’s/Jess’s illness. She is deaf for three months because of her adenoids (Oranges 22) but the mother and the pastor are convinced that Jeanette/Jess must be full of the spirit and they do not even consider the possibility that she could be ill. Even Jeanette does not really wonder why she cannot hear anymore. She also supposes that she must be in a state of ecstasy (Oranges 23). That proves that her mother has not prepared her for daily life appropriately. All she has taught her daughter are prayers, biblical stories and religious questions. Religion is the most important part in Jeanette’s/Jess’s life. Her education only consists of spiritual questions and spiritual explanations. So the protagonist is only able to interpret incidents in everyday life, such as illnesses, in a spiritual way.

In the film version of Oranges the viewer gets the impression that the pastor sees himself as an entertainer. He preaches enthusiastically and is the central figure of the community. In the first church scene he wants the congregation to give “a big round applause for Jesus” (film script Oranges 98) and exclaims “[w]hat a saviour!” (film script Oranges 98). This behaviour strikes the viewer as strange because usually one does not expect a pastor to act in this way. The common understanding of a church is that of a more or less “quiet place” and the pastor as the leader of the community, of course, but not as performer, because that is it what Pastor Finch seems to be. Later on in the film, he quotes a psalm that says “[m]ake a joyful noise unto the Lord” (film script Oranges 127). Both events show that it is really his intention to entertain the people, to make their faith something jubilant and the church service a celebration. But on the other hand, he frequently tries to frighten the community members by his sermons about demons (film script Oranges 100: “This little lily […] could herself become a house of demons”; 127: “there is an epidemic of demons, spreading through the North West”). That shows that the pastor controls the community in a way. He decides and achieves through his sermons whether they are pleased or anxious.

The Pastor’s excessive zeal becomes obvious in the scene when Jeanette/Jess arranges a picture of Daniel in the lions’ den with fuzzy felts in which she changes the original biblical story: in her picture, Daniel is eaten by the lions. The pastor interrogates the seven-year old girl why she did it like that and is eager to rearrange the picture so that it illustrates the original biblical message. This picture is very important for him although it is only a child’s arrangement.

Another striking scene is that in which the pastor arrives at church with a newly bought van. The inscription “Heaven or Hell? It’s your choice” on it demonstrates his and the church’s radical attitude. But it also seems to have the function of advertising. Combined with “terrified damned painted on one side and the heavenly host on the other” (Oranges 81) it shows everyone who looks at it where he/she could be in the case of being converted or where he/she remains in the case of continuing life as a heathen. In the film version the pastor’s arrival is almost celebrated by the faithful and reminds one of Jesus’ entry in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.

The whole extent of the community’s fanaticism is demonstrated in the exorcism scene which is discussed in section 2.1.2. Family bonds, friendship and emotions are shown to have no influence against the power of the church.

In Oranges Winterson makes an attempt to renew the reader’s/viewer’s attitudes, which were thought to be the “normal” ones. Church and family that we usually expect to be something safe and where we expect to have someone on our side are here responsible for betrayal and for the protagonist’s growing desperation. The church is shown not as a protecting but as a damaging institution. The community members are, especially towards the end of the story, portrayed “negatively and unsympathetically” in order to raise sympathy and understanding for the protagonist (Marshment/Hallam 1994: 43).

2.2 Stylistic devices in the film

Oranges is mainly a realistic film and so its main narrative tactic is to show everything as realistically as possible. The effect is that the viewer does not get the feeling that a situation comparable to Jess’s would not occur in real life. In contrary, the viewer might recognize similarities between characters of the film and people he/she knows. Furthermore, in the portrayal of the religious community and their actions they can see relations to their own experiences with religiosity (Hallam/Marshment 1995: 6). Admittedly, some brutal actions that are shown in the film would probably occur more subtle in real life. Most viewers have probably not experienced exorcisms within their church but maybe they have experienced people who tried to convince them verbally that what they were doing was wrong. So there are moments of recognition and Oranges would generally be described as a realistic film.

There are, however, some scenes that break this realistic structure of the film. These are mainly the opening sequences of each episode. They are set in a fairground and a church and show Jess and Small Jess being pulled apart in a surrealistic environment. In the first scene, Jess and Small Jess walk through the fairground holding hands. Other characters of the film are shown on a merry-go-round waving at laughing. Then Melanie appears and Jess leaves Small Jess and walks towards Melanie. Suddenly an old woman grabs Small Jess’ palm and predicts that she will never marry. The second opening sequence is set in the church. The members of the community are singing and clapping. As Jess and Small Jess walk slowly down the aisle, hands stretch out to grab them from each side. When they reach the pastor, he turns around and has the head of a jackal. Now the entire congregation have heads of animals. Small Jess disappears and the congregation start to speak in tongues and stamp their feet. The last sequence is again set in the fairground. All the characters are riding in dodgem cars. Jess and Small Jess share a car. Suddenly the mother’s car hits Jess’ car and then all characters begin to bump into her. Then the cars come closer and build a ring around Jess, who looks scared. The fairground music stops and Jess gets off the car and walks away without looking back.

These scenes give an introduction to the characters of the film and foreshadow the happenings of it by symbolizing the subsequent conflicts of the “pain and loss involved in the process of growing up and the nightmare of betrayal” (Marshment/Hallam 1994: 42). However, these scenes are strictly speaking not part of the action of the film.

The other stylistic device the film uses is that of showing key scenes much more explicitly than the novel does. Concerning religion, this becomes apparent in the exorcism scene. While the book does not mention any physical ill-treatment, the film version creates a very brutal equivalent. Jess makes the impression of being innocent and helpless whereas the adults are presented as unfeeling and fanatic in their plan. They tie Jess up and hurt her in order to pray over her without showing any compassion for the frightened and crying girl. Probably most shocking is the mother’s involvement in the action. It demonstrates the power of the church which is stronger than family bonds (Marshment/Hallam 1994: 43). This scene shows the misinterpretation of religiosity and its resulting cruelty more explicitly, radically than the book does.


[1] In the following, the abbreviation Oranges is often used instead of the full title Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit.

[2] In the novel, the protagonist is called Jeanette, in the film version she is called Jess. When the explanations concern only the character in the book, the name which is used in the book is also used here (i.e. Jeanette). When the explanations concern only the character in the film version, the name which is used in the film is also used here (i.e. Jess). When the explanations concern both the novel and the film version, both names are used in this form: Jeanette/Jess.

[3] Evangelical church which teaches that every word of the bible is literally true and which places special emphasis on the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Excerpt out of 24 pages


The depiction of religion and homosexuality in "Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit"
University of Cologne  (Englisches Seminar)
Hauptseminar: Concepts of Britishness in British Cinema
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
550 KB
In der Arbeit werden sowohl der Roman von Jeanette Winterson als auch die BBC-Verfilmung in die Analyse einbezogen
Oranges, Only, Fruit, Hauptseminar, Concepts, Britishness, British, Cinema
Quote paper
Stephanie Schmitz (Author), 2004, The depiction of religion and homosexuality in "Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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