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Winterson structures her novel on the first eight books of the Bible. This makes evident the importance of religion to the book. Genesis is the Biblical book of beginnings; similarly, Winterson's first chapter is Genesis and provides details of Jeanette's beginnings.
From the first chapter, the world in which Jeanette's mother lives is based upon the dualities of good and evil at opposite poles with no gray in between. This dualistic universe is what Jeanette must learn to negotiate first as a child and then as she begins to realize that her world is more complex than her mother's. Her mother's attentiveness to the World Service reveals her sincere willingness to work; but her single-minded devotion often prevents her from connecting with her daughter. In spite of not having a warm relationship as a child, Jeanette is eager to please her mother; because of her mother's influence, she has a sincere desire to become a missionary. Winterson makes a point of showing how devoted Jeanette is to family and religion; this makes her ultimate decision all the more difficult.
From the beginning, Winterson hints at how Jeanette's world will be different from her mother's and in what ways she will be confronted. The gypsy who says that she will not marry and the two women who run the paper shop foreshadow Jeanette's later homosexuality. It is important to note the mother's reaction to the women with "unnatural passions". When she learns that they have invited Jeanette to the beach, she forbids Jeanette to ever go into their shop again. Her rejection of these lesbians foreshadows her later rejection of her daughter.
It is important to remember that the title of the novel is Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit; therefore, any mention of fruit has significance to the book. The women at the paper shop give Jeanette bananas, normally considered a phallic symbol; but the bananas have been made into a bar. Symbolically, these women have squashed the banana (disarmed the phallus) into a new shape. They do not want or need men.
Jeanette's "birth" is one of the miraculous events in her mother's life. Since her mother adopts her, the "birth" is an "immaculate conception;" she receives a baby without having to have sex, which her mother abhors in any of its manifestations. Her mother sees herself as a Mary image. Like the Biblical magi, Jeanette's mother follows a star to the orphanage and then to Jeanette's crib. If her mother is an image of Mary, Jeanette becomes an image of the Christ child. Such religious imagery reveals that Winterson still values the ideas of Christianity, although she may not accept all its tenets.