In ‘Oranges are not the Only Fruit’ major literary theories are explored. The author engages perspectives on literature, namely those of Roland Barthes and Wolfgang Iser, to enable the reader to investigate these themselves. In ‘Deuteronomy’ the concept of having ‘to know what we are doing, pretending an order that doesn’t exist, to make a security that cannot exist’ is mentioned. This attacks the way that readers want to assume you can derive a true meaning from history, that simply cannot be found any more than a true meaning in a story, ‘ stuffing down the fishiest of fish tales, and why?
Because it is history’. The narrative of the extract dismisses the way ‘people like to separate storytelling which is not fact from history which is fact. They do this so that they know what to believe and what not to believe’. This suggests that the only thing people believe is history, but history can be a way of ‘denying the past too’. It is subject to interpretation and the way that different regimes have changed history to their own benefit, ‘until it looks the way you think it should’ makes it just as unreliable as one version of a story.
The authorial voice finds it amazing that we do not question history, but simply accept this as the truth. This links in to Roland Barthes’ essay ‘The Death of the Author’, where he comments on how ‘the author is always conceived to be the past of their own book’. As the ‘past’ of their own book, the author would be seen as the only thing to believe and the only true meaning of the work of literature lies in the hands of the author, and traditionally nobody would question that, just as history is not questioned.
These ‘true things to be found’ are dismissed in Deuteronomy’, as the narrative voice doesn’t believe they exist. This also relates to Barthes in that the narrative voice obviously doesn’t believe in authorial control over the meaning of the text either, leaving the text open to analysis by its readers. No one reading of meaning in the text can be judged better than others, as the text means something different to all readers, and will be interpreted slightly differently by all.
One true meaning no longer exists when you accept that the author does not control what the words are interpreted as once they leave his pen. The language is left out 1 here, open for all readers to determine their own expression of it, as Winterson says ‘Everyone who tells a story tells it differently, just to remind us that everybody sees it differently’. She expands upon this point by pointing out we make stories ‘what we will’.
It is up to the individual reader how to disentangle the language, form, structure and decipher their own true meaning from the text. This is how Winterson presents authors in her text, not as the all powerful ‘Author-God’ Barthes wishes to dethrone from their position of power over the meaning of the text, but as someone who presents heir work to the reader, and openly invites their interpretation of it. In ‘Deuteronomy’ the idea of ‘keeping it all alive, not boxing it into time’ is also discussed.
This also links into Barthes essay where he discusses the notion that a great work of literature should be ‘timeless’, and that ‘every text is eternally written here and now’. He also refers to the structure of the novel in a similar way Winterson does with history. He compares it to ‘the thread of a stocking’ which can be run and run, without finding the end. In this manner Winterson compares tories to a ‘string full of knots… hard to find the beginning and impossible to fathom the end’.
This reflects how each thinks a story should be read, more decoding of the text each time, and a new, fresh perspective each time you read the text, making it truly timeless. Another critic Winterson clearly identifies with is Wolfgang Iser. The author describes reading from two different accounts as not having ‘a seamless wonder but a sandwich laced with mustard of my own’. This refers to Iser’s notion of reading being the difference between the aesthetic nd artistic poles, of which we automatically fill in the blanks ourselves, this is Winterson’s mustard.
Iser describes this as the stars of meaning in a novel already being there, but the lines between them by which we interpret and connect the stars being individually filled in by the reader. All the chapters of ‘Oranges are not the Only Fruit’ are named after biblical books, ‘Deuteronomy’ being the book of laws, where Moses dictates the rules of how you should live. Winterson chooses this chapter to directly address the audience, and instead of continuing the arrative of Jeanette, to use the ‘book of laws’ to question the existing laws of literature instead. This reveals a great deal of how readers are positioned in ‘Oranges are not the Only Fruit’, not as passive readers as Georges Poulet saw them, ‘a work of literature becomes, at the expense of the reader whose own life it suspends, a sort of human being’ who simply accept the consciousness of the author as it streams into them from the literature itself, but readers which decide on meaning for themselves, who fill in the blanks as they need to in order to understand the text in their own terms, ‘negotiated readers’.