I am a graduate of a university which is considered to be old-fashioned and not as useful as many other specialties in our modern days. Among the many questions I was asked during my time as a student was “Why is (insert literature/linguistic subject/author) useful?” .
Let’s take Jeanette Winterson and gender literature as examples.
Unfortunately, I could never come up with a complete answer. At least, other than the fact that literature and linguistics are ‘softer’ sciences. We can see them around us every day, especially linguistics which we always consciously and unconsciously use in our day-to-day lives.
Literature itself has no clear usage other than to allow us, readers, to look… It allows us to glance at what it was VS what it is today. It allows all of us to open a gateway into our imagination, creative and critical thinking. It enables us to take hold of our minds for a few moments with the turn of each page like tidal waves on the beach.
Gender literature is something many students of humanities become familiarized with later during their study years. But this literature gains more and more importance with the passing of time. This happens due to the way both men and women are portrayed. However, it may also stem from the understanding of sexualities and romance between members of the same sex.
It is no less controversial to people who have little to no understanding of what this sort of literature irons out within its stories.
Personally, I was acquainted with such literature in my 2nd year of studies. But it took a primary reading followed by a re-reading of Jeanette Winterson’s “Oranges are not the only fruit” to realize many of the struggles she showcases throughout the story. It did not come as a shock. It came as a pleasant surprise that I could still identify with the story of a woman who lived those events many years before I was even born. It offered me a new perspective on my life and the hardships I had to go through. It reminded me of the fight I put up to that point to be who I really wished to be, even though that motive backfired constantly throughout the years for many reasons.
Admittedly, I had only read Winterson as a student and casual reader. For the next part, I turned to a specialist with inquiries regarding her novels and their meanings.
Dr. Alina Preda, who is an Associate Professor at the Faculty of Letters in Cluj-Napoca and a dear friend of mine, kindly answered my questions on Winterson’s works through one of her articles in which she discusses the importance of literature: “An essential component of humanistic studies, is to facilitate a deep understanding that the inherent diversity of the world we live in cannot and should not be denied, but accepted, equality in difference being the only beneficial solution both individually and socially.” (Quoted from Steaua, Anul LXX Nr. 8/2019, P. 23., my own translation).
To say that Winterson challenged norms of society regarding gender and sexual variety would be somewhat of an understatement. Her first novel retains its strong autobiographical sense with an emphasis on identity, and especially gender identity.
Dr. Preda continues by saying: “The Wintersonian literary genius transforms the subversive potentiality of the autodiegetic and homodiegetic narratives into a narrative force with real influences on readers engaged in the reading process, resulting in a constant revelation of the multidimensional character of the concept of identity in general and of gender identity in particular.” (Quoted from Steaua, Anul LXX Nr. 8/2019, P. 23., my own translation).
I can wholeheartedly agree with the fact that the narrative of Jeanette Winterson’s novels focuses much of its attention on the gender identity of the characters, allowing many readers to discover and rediscover themselves through her novels.
As Winterson’s novels are taught at the Faculty of Letters, Dr. Preda mentions how the novels allow the MA. Level Students: “To identify the forced dichotomization of certain discourses promoted at the expense of the acceptance of nature and, therefore, of the inevitable diversity that characterizes human existence. In time, these skills will lead to the obliteration of the toxic polarizations of conservative identity policies propagated by the deliberate ignorance of scientifically proven realities, and the world in which future generations will live will be marked not by unjustified discrimination, but by appreciating everyone’s right to a life. Free, fulfilled and happy.” (Quoted from Steaua, Anul LXX Nr. 8/2019, P. 23., my own translation).
Many other authors who have written novels centered around gender and identity, which are very intertwined by the standards of this literature in our time, have assisted many readers in accepting and allowing for a new perspective on what we can say are still present issues in our times. Both due to the treatment of women in some countries and the treatment of the LGBTQ+ community.
Winterson’s novels aim to show that life in all its aspects and diversity should be understood and appreciated by all. It is not just for people who suffer from discrimination and unfair treatment in the world. I would parallel the way Toni Morrison presented racism to the way Winterson presents the problems of gay/lesbian people.
I would like to thank my friend for aiding me in writing this article. By assisting me on researching Jeanette Winterson and her novels. I’d also like to express my thanks for guiding me throughout the writing process and understanding that literature is constantly changing.
To conclude, I would recommend Jeanette Winterson’s “Oranges are not the only fruit ” to anyone who wishes to gain a different view on gender and identity.
Author: Tudor Rusu