The Flip Side
Sexing the Cherry, written by Jeanette Winterson, abandons traditional literary form altogether. The main story line is very simple. At the beginning of the book, we are introduced to the Dog Woman, her adopted son Jordan and the life they lead in sixteenth century England. The Dog Woman is a large grotesque giant who has a very direct view on life. Jordan, on the other hand, has a more philosophical view on life. He has a calm personality and is a dreamer. He meets Tradescant, both an adventurer and the king?s gardener. Jordan travels with him, but his most important travels seem to be those in his mind. Sexing the cherry is unlike many novels. The book doesn?t seem to set time in a linear fashion. This means the author writes a book in which time is flexible. Both Dog Woman and Jordan are characters who have traits opposite to their own. This is an interesting element to Winterson?s novel, for it allows the audience to look at the characters in a different manner. In this novel, Janette Winterson creates stories within the inherent tale. She sets her characters between two time dimensions, and there is a chapter on dancing princesses. Why has she done this? And has this writing style been successful?
What qualities set Dog Woman apart from most women? She is much larger than any women can ever be. She has no self-respect for her looks. She says ?How hideous am I? My nose is flat, my eyebrows are heavy. I have only a few teeth, and those are poor show, being black and broken?The caves in my face are home enough for fleas?(19) Her past has not treated her well. We know she fell in love once, but her husband ran away because she was too hideous for him. Jordan is the only person she loves, while she likes Tradescant. It seems that Dog Woman is not looking for someone to love her back. She has Jordan and seems to be content. This contrasts most women today who all seem to be searching for the ?right person? in their lives. She has no problem with killing people and not being clean. ?Many of them have set upon me for my insolence, and of most those are dead?(91) If we where to use clear binary divisions, then one could observe that women today seem to be typecast as being the sex that represents cleanliness; Dog Woman doesn?t clean at all. Most characteristics that represent women today don?t fit Dog Woman. As Jordan states, ? she is silent, the way men are supposed to be?(114).
Jordan is a dreamer. He says ? I want to be brave and admired and have a beautiful wife and a fine house.?(114) Such dreams of white picket fences have been reserved for the female gender in today?s society. Jordan is a gardener, a calm person, and generally a smart person. Men are smart! Yet, true or not, the typecast of such a feature is undeniably put towards females. Winterson gives Jordan mysterious characteristics. He is searching for the perfect woman, yet she does not exist. ?Was I searching for a dancer whose name I did not know or was I searching for the dancing part of myself.?(39) Once again Jordan shows that he is more similar to the female gender then the male gender. Women have always dreamt about the perfect man. Handsome, romantic, dazzling, and most importantly, mysterious. This description seems to fit the thoughts Jordan has for Fortunata, the smallest dancing princess. So how do these characteristics relate to Jeanette Winterson?s bigger picture?
?Let the world mate of its own accord,? she says, ?or not at all. But the cherry grew, and we have sexed it and it is female?(85). Throughout Winterson?s novel she has altered general ideas about gender. In the above example she shows Jordan and Dog Woman talking about a fruit he has grown. Winterson is manifesting social standards on gender roles. The writing may be interpreted to illustrate Winterson?s thoughts on how society thinks. For instance, objects such as trees are seen as being a-sexual, some frogs mate a-sexually. Winterson is attempting to point out an example of society?s boundaries on life. She implies that humans create definitions. Her point here is that there is only ambiguity in life.
Jordan says ?We are no longer bound by matter, matter has become what it is: empty space and light.?(101) Winterson has used this quote for the basic outline of her story. This in turn also relates to the way she uses time. By allowing time to be bent, Winterson has been able to cross over to another dimension in time without loosing her plot. In Sexing the Cherry Winterson starts her story in seventeenth-century England and finishes it in the present. Her style is a bold and convincing one. At first, the style seems confusing, but it becomes very easy to follow as it evolves. Winterson also assembles her chapters in a way that alternates speech between Dog Woman and Jordan. The chapters read Jordan?s views and adventures and then switch to Dog Woman?s.
Some might argue that Winterson?s style is not that dissimilar to the average writer today. Although many writers today do have unusual styles and thoughts in their novels, Winterson has been able to do this successfully while putting across many mind-boggling thoughts to her readers. In Sexing the Cherry, Winterson discusses time, gender, goals, dreams, society, and existence in a non-coherent manner. The significance of these elements is that she makes sense to the reader. I very unusual element to Sexing the Cherry is the fact that there is a whole chapter on a different story. The story of the twelve dancing princesses is placed in the middle of the novel. All stories are of love and how each one of the princess?s men left them. Heartbreak is the main theme of the chapter. Therefore, for Winterson to do this while not veering away from her main theme ads new dimensions to her novel.
Winterson?s final sub hypothesis is do humans exist? If so, she demonstrates that there is no way humans can place themselves in a certain time frame. Although we might think we are living in the present, we can actually be dreaming all of this in another time frame. For instance, humans sometime know they are in a dream yet can?t do anything about it. Jordan says, ? I had a childhood, but I cannot assume to have had one I remember.?(102) This is similar to most people who usually remember the good things of their past. Remembering that we wanted to be firemen, or land on the moon, are all memories that have stuck with us for a while. This is because we have chosen to remember them. Lives are very complex and diverse. To remember everything from our lives is simply impossible. Therefore, we usually remember those unforgettable moments, be it good or bad as well as those instances we enjoyed. To conclude Winterson?s point Jordan says ? The future and the present and the past exist only in our minds, and from a distance the borders of each shrink and fade like the borders of hostile countries seen from a floating city in the sky.
Jordan says ?If someone is thinking me, then I am still free to come and go. It will not be like chess, this thoughtful universe, it will be a theater of changing sets, where we could walk through walls if we wanted, but do not, being faithful to our own sense of the dramatic?(113). This is exactly what Winterson has been discussing throughout her story. At first one might infer that there is the way in which time cannot be concrete when we know so little of ourselves. If we dream and remember, then what are we to think of it? One can?t function without memory. Therefore the point is that if one can remember something he has experienced while being unconscious then time cannot be linear. Past lives, being reborn, afterlives are all simple thoughts, not occurrences. So where do we get these ideas? We get them from people like Jeanette Winterson. These people have taken it upon themselves to change the way we think. We are no longer pieces on a chessboard following orders, and living without thought. We are human beings who realize our consciousness. Winterson has shown her audience how they can tell a story the way they want to. We as a society can live the way we want to, and we can do the things we want to.
Ultimately, Jeanette Winterson has taken a risk worthwhile. As John Barton said, ?Nothing splendid has ever been achieved except by those who dared to believe that something inside them was superior to circumstance.? Therefore, Humans shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time, as Jordan has. Sexing the Cherry successfully abandons traditional writing styles. Winterson?s point is simple: Things we see as definite and finite are not really what they seem to be. There are no straight lines in nature, and perfection is an ideal. Dog Woman explains to Jordan, and in essence Winterson tells her audience to ?remember the rock from whence ye are hewn and the pit from ye are digged?(3).