Jeanette’s childhood Essay
Jeanette’s childhood was much the same as Celie’s in the sense that it lacked a heterosexual relationship she could be influenced by. Jeanette’s parents aren’t shown to be in love; in fact they are hardly shown being together. When Jeanette asks her mother why she married her father, she replies not about love but about their responsibility to have a child and “dedicate it to the lord”(P. 10). Just like Celie, this lack of a loving parental relationship may have lead Jeanette to becoming a lesbian, as she hadn’t been exposed to any real love between a man and a woman.
Throughout the two novels, neither primary character has a close relationship with a male. Instead, they find shelter with other women. The fact that Jeanette never has a close relationship with a man can give us hints to her inevitable sexuality, as she is not sexually attracted to them, shown when she “tried imagining him without his clothes on. Horrid. “(P. -), expressing her disgust of the male body and general distaste of men. Throughout Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit, she has a close relationship with a woman from church, Elsie.
When Jeanette is sick in hospital, her mother rarely visits because she is busy, but Elsie comes every single day to “make me smile”(P. 29). This, as well as the fact Elsie sticks by Jeanette even after her lesbianism is revealed, almost seems to the reader that they have a parent/daughter relationship, where Elsie looks out for Jeanette and keeps her strong through hard times; Jeanette said “and my confidence restored (thanks to her)”(P. 30). Their closeness lasts until Elsie’s death.
Her friendship and experiences with Mrs Jewsbury introduces Jeanette to homosexuality, which is a key turning point in the novel and can be seen to have had a huge impact on Jeanette’s sexuality. Like Jeanette, Celie shares closeness with women rather than men. While Jeanette’s distaste of men is more passive and subtle, Celie is hateful and wary of men because of the way she’s been treated by them. She lived in a time when men dominated the social hierarchy, so all the women had to stick together.
This is shown when Celie meets Sofia, who has six brothers and five sisters, and says “all the girls stick together” (P. 39). It’s a possibility that Sofia’s words inspired Celie to find confidence in other women instead of suffering alone, because it is after this that Celie develops a close relationship with Sofia and Shug Avery,. The quilt Sofia and Celie make acts as a metaphor to show the power women can have when in numbers and the things they can achieve.
Both Nettie and Mr. __’s sister, Kate, tell Celie “You got to fight”(P. 17 and 21) to encourage her, and Kate says “you deserve more than this”(P. 20), which helps Celie discover self-worth and gives her the confidence to leave Mr. ___. Kate shows Celie she is not alone, and the new dress Kate buys for her symbolises Celie’s newfound refuge with other women and the start of defining herself as a new, stronger person.
Celie also seeks shelter from Shug, who she spends most of the novel admiring, and Shug takes on the responsibility of looking after her and introducing her to the idea of self-worth, empowering Celie as a woman. Their relationship is a major influence for Celie’s sexuality, despite the fact critic Trudier Harris calls it “The height of silly romanticism”1, implying it is unrealistic. I disagree with this, as I think their relationship is more sisterly than romantic, shown when Celie says “we sleep like sisters me and Shug” (P. 124) emphasizing how closely they’ve bonded. It is definitely not “silly” when looking at how much Celie gets out of their relationship, including redefining herself, questioning the word around her and discovering self worth, as stated before.
Walker and Winterson both foreshadow the future lesbianism of Celie and Jeanette in various ways through symbolism and particular events. Jeanette’s lesbianism is hinted throughout the book, one example being the banana bar she is offered by the lesbian shopkeepers.
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