In a story of a young girl coming of age and finding her sexuality in a very religious community, it is key to have a female figure that plays a key role for the character. A mother should play the key role but what happens when this role is confused with a very spiritual role? Where will a young girl turn to when her life goes against the rules society has set for her?
Jeanette has lived a sheltered life with no influence on her except for the church. Her mother is a strict Christian with a deep resentment for things and people not within her fold. Being brought up in a society where going against the norm is a sin. A society that shakes its head at acts of individualism and shuns those they can not convert to their way of thinking. In effect, a cult based on a long -standing text, the bible. In this cult though, Jeanette finds a kindred spirit that doesn’t fit the mold set by this religious society.
Elsie is an older woman who believes in God and all of his wonders. “’Listen to what the Lord has done for me this week.’ She needed eggs, the Lord sent them. She had a bout of colic, the Lord took it away.” (Winterson, p. 23). Even for her strong belief in God and all of His glories she is considered an eccentric. She practices numerology, creates unusual crafts and is outspoken. This personality is what attracts Jeanette. Elsie is so unlike her mother and the other women of the congregation and this fact pulls Jeanette closer to Elsie.Jeanette looks to Elsie for guidance and an understanding ear that doesn’t judge her harshly.
On the other hand Jeanette’s mother is an extreme personality. This personality is not seen as eccentric, it is seen as a trait that she is a true believer and follower of the Lords word. Religion is her way of controlling things in an otherwise confusing world. Within this circle of believers she can control the people around her with out anyone questioning her.
Her power is not seen as going beyond the limits. It is seen as a sign that this is her true calling and that she is a messenger of God. Also, Jeanette is not a child she wanted to love and care for. Jeanette was a child she adopted so that she could mold another solider for God. “…She would get a child, train it, build it, dedicate it to the Lord: a missionary child, a servant of God, a blessing.” (Winterson, p. 10).
Even though Jeanette’s mother and Elsie come from the same congregation and both believe in God and his wondrous works, they are very different. These differences between these two women are what make Jeanette a rounded person, if not a confused one at first. Jeanette gained a sense a self with her mother. She knew she was to work with the Lord and teach his words to others. Her goal in life was to go and be a missionary, to teach others how to believe in God. Combined with this imbedded sense of self is the confidence Elsie gave her. Elsie not only understood
the word of the Lord and came from within the society Jeanette grew up in, she had a sense of the world around her, that the world didn’t start and stop with the preaching of the Lord. Elsie gave Jeanette a feeling of fellowship, a deep friendship that was based on true feelings, not the Lord.
In one part of the book Elsie helps Jeanette with the transition of home schooling, which was based on biblical texts, to public schooling. Elsie gave Jeanette a way of incorporating her biblical background into a public school setting, even if it did shock and raise eyebrows. The older woman gave Jeanette a much-needed avenue to express herself. At this time her mother is not too upset with the friendship. She likes the reaction Jeanette is getting from her religious art works and other biblical oddities that seem out of place in public school. Elsie is still seen as