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The Garden and Fruits Metaphor in The Written on The Body

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Garden and Fruit Motifs in Written on the Body

Jeanette Winterson’s Written on the Body is a love story written from the genderless and nameless narrator’s point of view. “The self-narrating character goes to some lengths to obscure their sex and gender, talking in the first person and avoiding personal pronouns and self-description as male or female altogether” (McAvan 437); these things coupled with Winterson’s creative use of feminine and phallic symbols really keep the narrator’s gender concealed. Winterson uses the symbols of gardens and fruits to help achieve this. The garden motif can be seen as womanly and also as a symbol for happiness. The motif of fruit is symbolic of femininity and fertility, and it can also be seen as a phallic symbol in the novel. Also playing into the garden and fruit motifs are the many mentions of Adam and Eve, who were residents in the proverbial ‘ultimate’ garden and consumed the ‘ultimate’ fruit.

Typically, gardening is a hobby enjoyed by mostly women. Certainly there are males that do enjoy gardening, but in the text the use of gardens is seen as feminine. The narrator usually mentions the garden in times of happiness, or uses the garden to evoke happy feelings. One of the most telling instances of happiness is when the narrator comes back to the flat that had been shared with Louise: “I was strangely elated to be in my own home… This was the site of sorrow and separation, a place of mourning, but with the… garden full of roses I felt hopeful again. We had been happy here” (Winterson 163). Clearly in this instance, the garden is an outward symbol of the happiness the narrator feels inside; it is a happiness that has not been felt for a while. Perhaps the narrator is referring in the above passage to this scene from earlier in the text: “We were quiet together after we had made love. We watched the afternoon sun fall across the garden, the long shadows of early evening making patterns on the white wall… That afternoon, it seemed to me I had always been here with Louise, we were familiar” (Winterson 82). It is very plausible that narrator is indeed referring to that instance of contentment in the garden. In one part of the novel, the narrator has a nightmare: “I awoke sweating and chilled… I went into the garden, glad of the wetness sudden beneath my feet” (Winterson 42). Here, the narrator uses the garden for comfort and to elicit happier feelings than the nightmare, which was frightening. Another very symbolic instance is when the narrator is speaking of the cottage and says, “I cut some winter jasmine from the ragged garden and brought it indoors” (Winterson 108). The narrator was attempting to use the flowers to bring happiness into the drab cottage, but the result was not the one that was hoped for. Instead, the narrator says, “It looked like a nun in a slum” (Winterson 108). This line implies that the jasmine, like the nun, looks out of place in the cottage, which is being compared to a slum. In one scene, the narrator uses the garden to achieve feelings of happiness, but in a different way than those mentioned above: “I took [the letters] into the garden and burned them one by one and I thought how easy it is to destroy the past and how difficult to forget” (Winterson 17). In this case, the narrator does not have an immediate positive reaction, but is simply using the garden as jumping off point to attaining a happier state of being. This same type of situation is seen again in the novel, when the narrator is speaking of a relationship: “Most buds do have worms. You spray, you fuss, you hope the hole won’t be too big and you pray for sunshine. Just let the flower bloom and no-one will notice the ragged edges. I thought about me and Jacqueline. I was desperate to tend us” (Winterson 28). When faced with a tough situation, the narrator jumps to thinking about flowers and gardening in an effort to reach contentment.

While gardens are often seen as symbols of femininity and fertility, fruit is even more so representative of these attributes. This is an interesting point because the gendered qualities of the garden and fruit, also give gendered qualities to the ‘genderless’ narrator. At one point, the narrator says that “the pomegranate… [is the] fruit of the womb” (Winterson 91). This is important because the narrator is admitting that fruits do have gendered attributes. Another feminine fruit mentioned in the novel is the pear: “[Louise] split a pear; one of her own pears from the garden” (Winterson 37). The pear is often seen as a symbol of female sexuality, usually by virtue of its shape; the rounded portion appearing to visually represent a woman’s hips or bust. However, that same pear shape can also be considered a phallic symbol. As a phallus, the pear may possess the same fertility symbolism that is given of all fruit, but it definitely genders the pear as male. There are other examples of phallic fruit in the novel, too. The narrator mentions that “Playboy regularly features stories about asparagus and bananas and leeks” (Winterson 36). The banana could be considered the ultimate phallic fruit due to its shape, and the narrator mentions it again a few pages later: “There could not have been a more unromantic moment than [eating bread] and yet [it] is exciting me more than any Playboy banana” (Winterson 39). These phallic symbols serve as a way to sort of ‘undo’ the feminine gendered attributes of the fruit. In a sense, the female and male qualities of the fruits counteract each other leaving the narrator with no gendered attributes. Although, it could be argued that the narrator possesses both the male and female characteristics. Jennifer Smith says of that idea, “Just as the narrator cannot be unequivocally aligned with one gender in exclusion of the other, the narrator does not escape both genders simply by occupying each end of the spectrum”.

The novel mentions several times the story of Adam and Eve from the Bible; this fits along with the motifs of gardens and fruit. Commonly, the idea of the supreme paradise and place of happiness is the Garden of Eden:

The Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden, and there He put the man whom He had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was also in the midst of the garden and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Of course, the Garden of Eden is the location of where Eve ate the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, widely believed to be an apple:

Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, ‘Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?’ And the woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, not shall you touch it, lest you die.’’ Then the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ So when the woman saw that the tree was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate (Gen. 2.1-6).

In the novel, however, the narrator explains that “some say that the pomegranate was the apple of Eve” (Winterson 91), which is very plausible. At another point in the text the narrator says, “But you are gazing at me the way God gazed at Adam and I am embarrassed by your look of love and possession and pride. I want to go now and cover myself with fig leaves” (Winterson 18-9). In the Bible, this occurs after Adam and Eve have eaten the forbidden fruit:

Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and the sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings. And they heard the sound of God walking in the garden… and Adam and his wife hid themselves… among the trees of the garden. Then the Lord God called to Adam and said to him, ‘Where are you?’ So he said ‘I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself.’ (Gen. 3.8)

The novel’s tie-ins with the story of Adam and Eve, the Garden of Eden, and the forbidden fruit fit well with the many other references to gardens and fruit in the novel.

In conclusion, the garden and fruit motifs serve huge purposes in Written on the Body. The garden motif serves as an outward symbol of internal feelings of happiness. The fruit motif on the whole serves the purpose of helping the narrator to remain genderless, while revealing some other interesting symbolism. It is no coincidence that the two motifs go almost hand in hand, because the garden and fruit can each possess characteristics of the other; gardens also represent femininity and fertility, and certainly the narrator had happy feelings regarding fruit. Also, the novel’s references to the Garden of Eden provide another interesting look at the two motifs. In the end, these motifs give a deeper look into the complex character that is the narrator of Written on the Body.

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