Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? Summary & Study Guide

Winterson, Jeanette
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Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? Summary & Study Guide Description

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Topics for Discussion on Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Winterson, Jeanette.

The following version of this book was used to create this study guide: Winterson, Jeanette. Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? Vintage Canada, 2011. Vintage Canada Edition, 2012.

Jeanette Winterson, the author of this memoir, is born in Manchester in 1959 and is adopted by Mr. and Mrs. Winterson in 1960. Jeanette’s childhood is challenging in many ways. The family is poor and Jeanette is frequently beaten and locked out of the house overnight. Both her parents are devoutly religious and when Mrs. Winterson is angry she claims that “The Devil led us to the wrong crib” (1).

Jeanette grows up in a working-class community in Accrington until she leaves home at the age of sixteen. She is raised feeling unloved and unwanted, so she turns to books and writing for a sense of identity and comfort. Mrs. Winterson is depressed and longs for the heavenly rewards she believes will come with death. She anticipates the Apocalypse but Jeanette holds on to her own inherent love of life.

Mrs. Winterson does not allow secular literature in the house so Jeanette begins reading the classics of English literature in secret and uses the money from her part-time job to buy books. When Mrs. Winterson finds the books hidden under Jeanette’s mattress, she burns them.

Jeanette believes home is a place of safety, but she never felt that way as a child. Jeanette is an aggressive and unpopular child and Mrs. Winterson believes she is possessed by a demon. Jeanette sees the value of religion in providing people with feelings of home and community. As a teenager, Jeanette starts a relationship with another girl from her church. Mrs. Winterson soon finds out and the church arranges an exorcism. Everyone believes that the only way Jeanette could have a same-sex relationship is under the influence of demonic possession. After this ordeal, Helen ends their relationship.

Jeanette then writes about some of the positive elements of Accrington and her childhood. She writes about the vivid and lively quality of the Accrington market and the pride of the townspeople. She writes about her happy Christmas memories but quickly returns to memories of Mrs. Winterson’s oddities. Mrs. Winterson is disgusted by sex and refuses to sleep in the same bed with her husband. After the exorcism, she cannot help but associate Jeanette with the thing that most disgusts her.

The next year Jeanette begins a new relationship with a girl named Janey. Mrs. Winterson finds out about their relationship as well and gives Jeanette an ultimatum. She must stop seeing Janey or move out of the house and never come back. Jeanette leaves home and starts living out of a borrowed car. Soon she is taken in by one of her English teachers, Mrs. Ratlow.

After first being denied entry, Jeanette wins herself a place at the University of Oxford to study English. She is thrilled despite the sexism and snobbery at the school. She writes to ask Mrs. Winterson if she may visit at Christmas with a friend and Mrs. Winterson agrees. Tensions soon begin to mount and Mrs. Winterson stops speaking to them. Not long after, Jeanette decides to leave. She never returns and she never sees Mrs. Winterson again.

Jeanette pauses the narrative here to write about to belief in nonlinear time and her feeling that creativity “bridges time” (153).

In the next section, Jeanette finds her birth certificate and the narrative flashes forward to the late 2000s. Jeanette finds more of her adoption papers around the same time that her partner of six years ends their relationship. She falls into a depression triggered by a deep sense of loss. She tries to commit suicide but survives. Slowly, she learns how to contain the dark side of herself and promises herself she will learn how to love.

Jeanette then begins the complicated and difficult search for her birth mother. The search is impeded at nearly every turn by the legal system and the fact that Jeanette had a closed adoption. Jeanette teams up with a social worker who eventually finds out her birth parents’ names and dates of birth. With the help of friends and an ancestry website, Jeanette is finally able to track down her birth mother through a male relative. They begin corresponding by letter and Jeanette learns more about why she was given up for adoption.

In the middle of this storyline, Jeanette breaks narrative to write about her father’s death in 2008. He died a few days after Christmas and directed that he be buried with his second wife. Jeanette makes a point to write that Mrs. Winterson lies in her grave alone.

Jeanette then decides to meet her birth mother, Ann. On the same day, she also meets her half-brother, Gary. Jeanette finds them easy to talk to and immediately discovers similarities between herself and Ann.

Jeanette has mixed feelings about meeting her birth mother. She says does not blame her for giving her up, but she knows she is also furious at her. They meet a few more times and on the third visit they have a fight where Jeanette voices her resentments. Jeanette knows Ann wants her to be a part of her family, but her own feelings are still unclear. The books ends on this note of uncertainty but before it does, Jeanette emphasizes the importance and necessity of knowing you are loved.

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This section contains 899 words
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