How to Write an Undergraduate-Level Essay
Here is an example of a very strong university undergraduate essay that should help you to structure your own essays.
“Oranges deal absolutely with emotions and confrontations that none of us can avoid “First love, loss, grief, rage and above all courage”. To what extent do you agree with this reading of ‘Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit’?”
To a certain extent ‘Oranges’ address the emotions of first love, loss, grief, rage, and courage through the structure of a bildungsroman and an autobiography that track the development of character and mind of the central protagonist throughout the novel, especially when Jeanette comes in conflict with the Pentecostal evangelical church and her mother. However, most of the time Jeanette fails to articulate her emotions openly as she feels bound by the heterosexual values. In order to allow us greater access into Jeanette’s feelings, Winterson experiments with style and structure by incorporating fairy tales and fables into the realist narrative so as to allow Jeanette to escape from the restrictions imposed on her by the evangelical community into fantasy where she can express her feelings more freely. Yet, to a greater extent, ‘Oranges’ not only concerns itself with emotions and confrontations, but also disputes the notion that stories or history can convey objective truth. Winterson explains that history conveys subjective instead of objective truth by taking a post-modernist stance and incorporating fantasy and fables into the realist story in order to blur the boundaries between what is real and what is unreal, which has the effect of forcing the reader to regard Jeanette’s narrative as subjective truth. This successfully counters the post-structualist notion of a single version of truth as the reader is left to construct their own version of events based on their interpretation of the novel. Winterson extends the idea that history conveys subjective truths to Christianity in order to undermine the bible and the authority of the church.
Jeanette’s growing obsession with Melanie helps to foreshadow a sense of conflict between Jeanette’s sexuality and the church. Winterson hints at Jeanette’s eventual disagreement with the church when Jeanette arranges the Fuzzy Felt pieces so that “the lions are swallowing Daniel” (1) where in actual fact Daniel escaped. The Fuzzy Felt pieces to some extent represent the church’s shaping of Jeanette according to heterosexual values, but Jeanette’s choice to destroy the male from the picture helps to foreshadow her future lesbianism that will put her in conflict with the church. When Jeanette experiences first love with Melanie, Jeanette undergoes an internal conflict as she fails to understand “what is it about intimacy that makes it so very disturbing?” (2). Winterson illustrates Jeanette’s love as pure and spontaneous since Jeanette did not seek Melanie out of free will but rather encountered her in the market unexpectedly. Jeanette displays her rage by refusing to believe that one cannot be homosexual and serve the church at the same time as she states that “yes, I love both of them” (3) but the pastor replies that “you cannot” (4). Faced with a dilemma, Jeanette decides to remain loyal to the church and repent at the expense of losing Melanie. However, Jeanette’s experience of first love with Melanie has helped Jeanette to discover her sexuality which is revealed through her choice to keep the orange demon, which is symbolic to Jeanette’s acceptance of homosexuality. An alternative interpretation is that Jeanette experiences first love with her mother, as Patricia Duncker adopts the feminist theory to explain that the lesbian desire “is a continuation of the first love a girl experiences: love of another woman” (5). Winterson establishes a strong bond between Jeanette and her mother by suggesting that Jeanette liked to come down to her mother “in the middle of the night and not be lonely” (6) and enjoyed singing “our favourite hymn” (7) with her. Winterson gives us an insight into Jeanette’s psyche prior to her encounter of Melanie through the fairy tale of a prince and a goose in which the woman breaches sexual expectations by refusing to marry the prince and as a result her head is chopped off. The fairy tale thus reflects Jeanette’s psychological rejection of heterosexuality and has undertones of her lesbianism, which consolidates the view that Jeanette has recognised her sexuality through the experience of first love with her mother and her relationship with Melanie is therefore a continuation of that love.
Following Jeanette’s confrontation of the church regarding her homosexuality, the pastor made it clear that Jeanette cannot be a lesbian and serve the Lord at the same time, so Jeanette decides to leave the church in order to fulfill her homosexuality. Yet, Jeanette is aware that “there’s no choice that doesn’t mean a loss” (8) and to this extent Jeanette loses her mother in the processes of establishing her sexual independence. Winterson closely adheres to the structure of a bildungsroman and follows the central protagonist’s development of mind and character, “through various experiences-often through a spiritual crisis” (9), into maturity. Initially, Winterson establishes Jeanette’s satisfaction and pleasure of living with her mother as Jeanette explains that she cannot recall a time “when I did not know that I was special” (10). However, Winterson soon establishes a sense of loss after Jeanette’s undergoes her first “spiritual crisis” (11) where Jeanette experiences first love, grief, rage and courage during the conflict between her sexuality and the church. Jeanette’s spiritual crisis marks a stage in the maturity of her character where she has managed to realise that she was wrong thinking that she and her mother “saw things just the same” (12) when in fact “all the time we were on different planets” (13). Jeanette thus leaves her mother in order to establish her sexual independence. However, Jeanette still feels a sense of displacement and loss of her previous life when she returns to her mother as she wishes to “wake up tomorrow with the past intact” (14). Parallel to Jeanette’s narrative, Winterson tells a story of Sir Perceval who had left the Round Table for “his own sake” (15) and now only wanted “to wake up round familiar things” (16). Similarly, Jeanette has left her mother in order to find her sexuality, however in the end Jeanette feels a sense of loss of her childhood as well as her mother and therefore wishes to wake up with the history intact. Interestingly, Winterson breaches the structure of a bildungsroman as in the end Jeanette neither loses her mother nor her lesbianism but instead experiences a great sense of displacement, which according to C. Anievas Gamallo, refuses to give a single interpretation of Jeanette’s identity and subverts the traditional bildungsroman to a “lesbian coming out narrative” (17).
Jeanette’s decision to leave her mother and the church in order to find her sexuality forms a great proportion of Jeanette’s grief. As Jeanette leaves home and the church, she digresses into a fairy tale of a wizard and Winette. The wizard disowns Winette after she enters a heterosexual relationship and gives her a choice to leave or stay and milk goats. Winette is warned by the black raven Abednego that if she stays, she will find herself “destroyed by grief” (18). As Jeanette leaves for the other side, “there is nothing about her but water…she can’t go back” (19). The fairy parallels Jeanette leaving her mother and the church, and like Winette, Jeanette cannot stay with her mother and the church any longer as they will prevent her from discovering her sexuality, which will ultimately destroy her. However, when Jeanette leaves, she evidently experiences a great amount of grief as she is aware that she cannot go back to her mother and the church. Jeanette receives a further emotional blow from Elsie’s death as she explains that “I looked at the floor, wanting not to cry” (20). Following Elsie’s death, Jeanette’s mother disowns her stating that “she’s no daughter of mine” (21) but Jeanette is no longer able to seek comfort from Elsie and instead must endure all the grief inside her. Winterson establishes that Elsie acted as a link between Jeanette’s Lesbianism and religion, and instead of condemning Jeanette’s lesbianism, Elsie sought to comfort and provide solace to Jeanette at times of grief and loss as Jeanette explains that Elsie “did not talk about the rights and wrongs” (22) of life. Instead, Elsie introduced Jeanette to the world outside religion as shown by Elsie’s revelation of the ‘Goblin market’ which concerns itself with religiously condemned topic of lesbianism. Jeanette soon discovers that her mother has rewritten ‘Jane Eyre’ where in fact “Jane does not marry St John Rivers” (23) but returns to Rochester. In the same way, Jeanette realises that her mother has attempted to shape her life according to her own heterosexual values but Jeanette is now aware that she must follow her own instincts and shape her life according to her own values and beliefs. Since most of the time Jeanette’s emotions are internalised, Winterson uses the technique of magical realism to provide a greater insight into Jeanette’s psyche by allowing Jeanette to escape all constraints of the society and its values into fantasy, where anything is possible. Winterson was inspired by Gabriel García Márquez ability to integrate fantasy into reality where fantasy becomes an undeniable fact as Marquez writes in ‘The One Hundred Years of Solitude’ that "it rained for four years, eleven months, and two days"(24) which at sight seems impossible but its numerical values gives the incidence a real sense of severity. In the same way, Winterson amalgamates Jeanette’s fantasy with realism which in effect produces the effect of converting fantasy into an undeniable fact. This has the consequence of making anything possible in the novel and Jeanette’s emotions and lesbian desires become a possible and almost undeniable element of ‘Oranges’.
Paulina Palmer views Winterson’s employment of magical realism as a means to “develop an alternate sense of self” (25) which closely associates ‘Oranges’ with an autobiography since Winterson has explained that it is “not possible to forgive unless you can understand” (26). Winterson said that she still feels grief when recalling her childhood memories where she was not allowed to return home after she entered a homosexual affair with another girl. However, Winterson is still unable to forgive and overcome her grief since she still has not managed to understand herself as well as those close to her. To this extent, the reason behind Winterson’s employment of multiplicity of stories may be to provide Winterson with various perspectives of the world in order to help her to come to terms with who she is and overcome her grief, loss and rage by learning to understand everyone around her and thus forgive.
Following Jeanette’s grief at losing her mother and the church, Jeanette expresses rage, first at Katie’s betrayal as Pastor Spratt explained to Jeanette “she did not love you” (27) and then Melanie’s stipulation that their relationship was “just history, the nothing-at-all facts” (28). Jeanette believes that “there’s no choice that doesn’t mean a loss” (29) and this view is reflected in Jeanette’s rejection of her mother and the church for her lesbianism. Yet, Jeanette, and her associations with lesbianism, is eventually rejected by both Melanie and Katie in favour of heterosexuality. Jeanette thus states that “betrayal is betrayal wherever you find it” (30) and attempts to anger Melanie by lying to her that she was “dabbling in the white slave trade” (31) or “sacrificing infants” (32). Earlier Jeanette digressed into a fairy tale of the ‘City of Lost Chances’ and the library assistant explained Jeanette has made “the fundamental mistake” (33) and thus she could change her role “but never your circumstances” (34). Jeanette now feels trapped between lesbianism and heterosexuality as at some point she is betrayed by both. To this extent, Jeanette fails to come to terms with who she is, and feels a sense of rage at her displacement and lack of belonging.
Jeanette displays signs of courage through her divergent views on sexuality confronting the existent ecclesiastical institution and her refusal to accept the status quo. Winterson digresses into a fairy tale where she portrays Jeanette as a “rebel” (35) who “storms the Winter Palace” (36). Metaphorically, the Winter Palace represents the church’s teachings, yet in her relationship with Melanie, Jeanette discovers her homosexuality and refuses to conform to the frozen heterosexual values enforced on her by the church and her mother.
Winterson uses oranges as a symbol for heterosexuality and throughout the novel, Jeanette’s mother gives Jeanette oranges to comfort her which is illustrated through the occasion when Jeanette’s mother sent Jeanette “a letter with a couple of oranges” (37) at the time when Jeanette was in hospital. However, Jeanette’s growing lesbianism is reveled through her rejection of heterosexuality as revealed by her recognition that “oranges are not the only fruit” (38). According to Elizabeth Helsinger, in one of her letters, Rossetti stated that “if women enter the marketplace they risk being literally consumed” (39). This statement holds true to the maidens in the ‘Goblin Market’ where they become a part of the economic exchange, the payment for fruits is bodily and not money, which is suggested through Laura’s exchange of her “golden curl” (40) for men’s fruits. Winterson appears to be not only alluding to, but also re-writing Rossetti’s ‘Goblin Market’ as she diverts from the marketplace to a religious sphere. Yet, in the religious sphere Jeanette has the ability to consume, since she states that she wins many converts, but also risks being consumed by “forcing herself to be split apart by renouncing her lesbianism” (41). In effect, while fruit are for sale in the ‘Goblin Market’ so is religion for sale in ‘Oranges’ as shown by church members trying to attract passersby into their tent. Pastor Spratt explains that it is against the teachings to allow women “power in the church” (42) which suggests that all power in the church is still held by men, which according to Jeanette, makes her mother a “whore” (43). Whereas, Jeanette displays signs of courage as she resists the temptation of heterosexuality by refusing to recognise oranges as the only fruit and instead develops a craving for other fruits such as “grapes or bananas” (44) which illustrates her recognition of homosexuality. Alternatively, ‘Oranges’ can also be viewed as a continuation of the ‘Goblin Market’ where it leaves off with an older woman telling the story to a young girl. To a certain extent, Jeanette appears to be a representative of the next generation of women to face the challenge of temptation of heterosexuality, which is strongly consolidated by Jeanette’s emphasis that nothing can intrude the heterosexual values since it will always be “Father and Son. Father”(45). In fact, Jeanette’s courage of rejecting heterosexuality mirrors the courage of women in achieving greater sexual liberation during the Thatcherist years that marked great left wing activism, mainly against inflexible right-wing values regarding sexuality.
Yet, to a greater extent, ‘Oranges’ cannot be confined to a Bildungsroman and an autobiography that solely address emotions and confrontations, since it also questions the objective nature of truth that derives from history and extends this idea to Christianity to suggest that even a holy scripture such as the bible was written with an element of subjectivity. In the Deuteronomy, instead of providing most of the basis for biblical law, Jeanette questions the nature of history as she explains that whenever she hears of past “I believe them…but not in the same way…I can put these accounts together and I will not have a seamless wonder but a sandwich laced with mustard of my own” (46). Winterson adopts a comic analogy of a sandwich in order to illuminate the idea that history conveys subjective truth, just as we can choose to make a sandwich that we like, so can we shape history in any direction that suits us best. In her exploration of subjective nature of truth that derives from history, Winterson was inspired by Italo Calvino and his incorporation of fairy tales into the main narrative of ‘Invisible Cities’ where he writes that “no one can see every face of a city on one day” (47) and thus illuminates its subjective nature. In the same way Winterson refuses to give history a single interpretation through her experimental style of interspersing haphazardly constructed fables and mythical legends into Jeanette’s narrative. This in turn crosses the boundaries between reality and fantasy and, as Patricia Duncker suggests (1998), “deconstructs the binaries-fact and fiction, history and story” (48), which forces the reader to question which parts of the novel are fiction and which are non-fiction. This uncertainty removes the post-structualist idea of a dominant binary and so does not give the novel a single interpretation but instead provides the reader with the ability to interpret the novel on the basis of their own version of events hence the advice “make your own sandwiches” (49).
Significantly, Winterson parallels chapters of the Old Testament with fables and myths in order to suggest that even the bible contains subjective truth and in doing so she closely follows in the footsteps of Michel Foucalt’s study of how power and knowledge have been historically preserved. Winterson has named all eight chapters after books in the bible in order to show the importance of Christianity in Jeanette’s life and above all to point out that Jeanette’s life is set out by her mother just as she shaped the ending of ‘Jane Eyre’. However, Winterson’s incorporation of fictional stories into Jeanette’s narrative illustrates the constructed nature of all stories, even religious scriptures such as the bible. Winterson further reduces the seriousness and credibility of the bible by adopting an element of humour such as when Jeanette replies that Pastor Finch was in the “Sunday Room playing with the Fuzzy Felt” (50). These humorous references therefore ridicule church members as narrow-minded and their extremist values help to undermine their authority and alienate the reader from their views as C. Anievas Gamallo proposes that “Laughter…remains a politically subversive weapon that challenges conventional standards of perceiving and writing in the world” (51). The church’s failure to see beyond the religious boundaries eventually results in the corruption of the Morecambe guesthouse and the Society for the Lost, which echoes Elsie’s earlier advice that if one is to make sense of either the religious or the physical world, “you have to take notice of both”(52). Jeanette concludes that she does not see God as her betrayer but rather their servants, since “servants by their nature betray” (53) and instead, Winterson leaves Elsie as a Christian role model who does not discuss the “rights and wrongs” (54) of life and almost certainly conforms to the few “human relationships” (55) that match up to God.
In conclusion, to a large extent ‘Oranges’ address the emotions of first love, loss, grief, rage and courage through the elements of a bildungsroman and an autobiography, which track the growth of Jeanette’s character from childhood into maturity. However, Jeanette finds it almost impossible to articulate her emotions given her marginalised position as a homosexual in a heterosexual society. In order to provide the reader with a greater insight into Jeanette’s emotions, Winterson adopts magical realism where Jeanette is allowed to escape from the oppressive society into fantasy where she can articulate her emotions more freely. However, to a greater extent, Winterson’s experimental style also raises the debate of history conveying subjective truth because the intertwining of magical realism into the novel reduces the validity of Jeanette’s narrative as the reader is forced to alternate between fairy tales and Jeanette’s realist narrative, which makes the boundaries between reality and fantasy almost indistinguishable. This, along with the novel’s lack of resolution at the end, removes the idea of an ultimate version of truth and allows the reader to use their fantasy to devise their own interpretations of the novel. Winterson extends the idea of history and its subjective nature to the holy scriptures such as the bible through her employment of magical realism and humour, both of which help to undermine religious authority.
(1) Page 12, ‘Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit’.
(2) Page 101, ‘Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit’.
(3) Page 103, ‘Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit’.
(4) Page 103, ‘Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit’.
(5) Page 17, ‘Jeanette Winterson and the Aftermath of Feminism.’
(6) Page 15, ‘Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit’.
(7) Page 16, ‘Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit’.
(8) Page 167, ‘Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit’.
(9) Page 47, ‘A Glossary of Literary Terms’
(10) Page 2, ‘Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit’.
(11) Page 47, ‘A Glossary of Literary Terms’
(12) Page 112, ‘Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit’.
(13) Page 112, ‘Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit’.
(14) Page 168, ‘Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit’.
(15) Page 168, ‘Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit’.
(16) Page 168, ‘Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit’.
(17)Page 23, ‘The Girl: Construction of the Girl in Contemporary Fiction By Women’.
(18) Page 143, ‘Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit’.
(19) Page 155, ‘Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit’.
(20) Page 147, ‘Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit’.
(21) Page 130, ‘Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit’.
(22) Page 73, ‘Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit’.
(23) Page 73, ‘Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit’.
(24) Page 62, ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’.
(25) Page 15,’Contemporary Lesbian Writing: Dreams, Desire, Difference’.
(26) Page 15,’Contemporary Lesbian Writing: Dreams, Desire, Difference’.
(27) Page 147, ‘Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit’.
(28) Page 166, ‘Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit’.
(29) Page 167, ‘Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit’.
(30) Page, 147, ‘Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit’.
(31) Page 167, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit’.
(32) Page 167, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit’.
(33) Page 109, ‘Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit’.
(34) Page 109, ‘Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit’.
(35) Page 87, ‘Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit’.
(36) Page 87, ‘Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit’.
(37) Page 29, ‘Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit’.
(38) Page 167, ‘Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit’.
(39) Page 22, ‘Consumer Power and the Utopia of Desire’.
(40) Page 19, ‘Consumer Power and the Utopia of Desire’.
(41) Page 19, ‘Consumer Power and the Utopia of Desire’.
(42) Page 131, ‘Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit’.
(43) Page 132, ‘Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit’.
(44) Page 111, ‘Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit’.
(45) Page 87, ‘Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit’.
(46) Page 93, ‘Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit’.
(47) Page 34, ‘Invisible Cities’.
(48) Page 18, ‘Jeanette Winterson and the Aftermath of Feminism’.
(49) Page 93, ‘Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit’.
(50) Page 13, ‘Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit’.
(51) Page 72, ‘The Girl: Construction of the Girl in Contemporary Fiction By Women’.
(52) Page 32, ‘Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit’.
(53) Page 165, ‘Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit’.
(54) Page 73, ‘Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit’.
(55) Page 130, ‘Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit’.
- A Glossary of Literary Terms, Abrams, M. H. 1993, Harcourt Publishers.
- Consumer Power and the Utopia of Desire: Christina Rossetti's `Goblin Market, ed. Joseph Bristow, 1996, Macmillan.
- Contemporary Lesbian Writing: Dreams, Desire, Difference. Palmer, Paulina. Buckingham: 1993, Open UP.
- Invisible Cities, Italo Calvino, 1974, Hartcourt Brace Jovanovich
- “Jeanette Winterson and the Aftermath of Feminism.” .” ‘I’m telling you stories’: Jeanette Winterson and the Politics of Reading. Duncker, Patricia, 1998, Amsterdam and Atlanta.
- One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez, 1967, Sadan
- Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, Winterson, J. 1990, Vintage Publishers.
- The Girl: Construction of the Girl in Contemporary Fiction By Women, Anievas Gamallo, Isabel C. 1998, St Martin’s.