“Once upon a time, in the forest, lived a woman who was so beautiful that the mere sight of her healed the sick and gave a good omen to the crops… Meanwhile, in a part of the forest that had become a town, a great prince roamed sadly along the corridors of his palace.” – Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit. Chapter: Leviticus.
This charming introduction to an ‘authentic’ fairytale in the Chapter Leviticus is simply subversive, yet may seem like a digression from the main text or body of the book. Though digression has a purpose in “diverting” the reader from the main text, this ironically points the reader to a deeper meaning and understanding of the apple and inner garden of the text.
Sterne himself was quite partial to it:
“Digressions, incontestably, are the sunshine; – they are the life, the soul of reading; — take them out of this book for instance; — you might as well take the book along with them; – one cold winter would reign in every page of it…” – The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. Laurence Sterne.
Imagine yourself in a field. Surrounded by wheat and blue skies. You know you are physically present- that bluey-blue sky cannot be false. Neither than the swaying wheat gently pressing on your feet. They are undeniable facts. But the “why” may elude you. Naturally, you walk in this endless field. As you are walking, you find apples on the ground. They don’t look terribly bad. Apples are a part of nature and so are wheat. Cognitive dissonance. It looks odd. Why are apples in a wheat-planted field? Of course, you don’t know that at the end of this wheatfield is a garden carefully managed by a farmer.
And that, my friend, is like reading texts within a text. At least to me.
Intertextuality is a feature that Postmodern critics have been quite (lack of a better word) critical about as it is made up of odds and ends. However, it is deemed as a more political gesture and social commentary of society. Even today, Postmodernism is still largely the reigning queen of modern Literature.
Like the previous chapters, Winterson parodies her chapters according to the title. Leviticus is the book of priests; it is a manual that the Levites (priests) used. And perfection is emphasised quite a lot. It is also the first chapter in the book (Oranges) that Jeanette has her “first theological disagreement”.
Perfection is not flawlessness. To Jeanette, it calls for a “perfect balance of qualities and strengths” and not utter un-blemish. This is a battle that she will fight cudgels against theologians about but it also signifies her rebellion against a patriarchal order and the war that they fought previously; Winterson makes a subtle reference to World War II and Hitler’s pursuit of an Aryan race.
Winnet Stonejar and Sir Perceval are what make Oranges the Postmodern novel. Without it, tis be like eternal winter.