Who Is Nora in Orange Is the New Black?

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform summary of "Orange Is The New Black" by Piper Kerman. Shortform has the world's best summaries of books you should be reading.

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Who is Nora in Orange Is the New Black? What is her role in the book and how is she connected to Piper?

Nora in Orange Is the New Black was the one who turned Piper in for drug smuggling. Nora Jansen and Piper Kerman had a romantic relationship, and together they smuggled drugs internationally.

Read more about Nora in Orange Is the New Black.

Nora: Orange Is the New Black’s Villain?

Piper graduated from Smith College in the early 1990s. Not wanting to settle down right away and start a career, she instead went looking for adventure and new opportunities for self-exploration. She moved to the nearby town of Northampton, Massachusetts, where she began a bohemian chic life alongside a clique of other 20-something college graduates. She worked at a brewery and enjoyed casual sexual encounters with her peers. During this time, she also explored another dimension of her sexuality, having relationships with women as well as men.

It was during this period of Piper’s life that she met a mysterious, but intriguing woman named Nora Jansen. While Nora in Orange is the New Black was not conventionally attractive, she had an allure that mesmerized Piper. Piper quickly learned that Nora was a far-from-conventional person with a far-from-conventional job—Nora, in fact, was a drug dealer, working for an international heroin smuggling ring headed by a West African drug lord. Nora Jansen and Piper Kerman smuggled drugs all over the world.

For Piper, who was desperately looking for adventure and unique life experiences, Nora was a window into a thrilling and high-stakes world. Piper fell under Nora’s sway and began a torrid love affair with her. As the months went on, Piper became more and more involved with Nora’s smuggling operation, as did many of her Northampton friends. In Orange is the New Black, Nora provided Piper with the adventure that Piper craved. On a whim, she moved with Nora to San Francisco, where they began a life defined by travel to distant and exotic locations, where Nora in Orange in the New Black would meet her contacts in the drug ring. Piper was engaged as a courier in this operation, transporting bags of drug money through international airports. She was fascinated and thrilled by the adventure and risk of it all, and she relished the opportunity to see the world.

Piper began to feel that she was on a truly dangerous and reckless path and had gotten herself in far over her head. In particular, she began to have her doubts about Nora in Orange is the New Black. During the Indonesia trip, Piper and Nora journeyed to Krakatoa, where they spent the day in a pool that lay atop a 35-foot waterfall. Nora dared Piper to jump over the waterfall into the river below. Reluctantly (and after pressure from Nora), Piper made the terrifying plunge. Nora followed after, but told Piper she was using her as a guinea pig—she only jumped after seeing that Piper had done so with dying or suffering gruesome injury. This set off an alarm in Piper’s mind that Nora was dangerous and untrustworthy.

She knew that Nora was exploiting her, using her as a courier to help herself make money. Clearly, Nora was willing to put Piper at great legal and physical risk for her own benefit. After one final trip during which Nora asked her to smuggle actual heroin (instead of money) through the airport in Zurich, Piper decided enough was enough. She ended her relationship with Nora and cut ties with her. Nora Jansen and Piper Kerman went their separate ways, and Piper closed this exciting, but frightening chapter of her life—or so she thought.

In May 1998, Piper and Larry’s happy life in New York received a rude awakening. One day while Piper was at home in their apartment, she heard a knock at the door. When she answered, she was shocked to find two US customs officials. She let them into the apartment, where they told her that she was being indicted on conspiracy charges related to her drug smuggling activities with Nora, which she had ended five years before. The customs officials told her that she needed to speak to a lawyer as soon as possible.

A Reunion

One day, Piper saw a familiar figure emerge from a cell and take her place on the breakfast line. Piper was floored—it was Nora Jansen, the woman who’d sent her to prison. The woman who had entirely derailed her life. The woman who was responsible for the last six agonizing years. The woman who had robbed her of her chance to say goodbye to her grandmother. Now she was before her in the flesh.

Piper told Jae who Nora was when they sat for breakfast, openly fantasizing about taking violent revenge. Thankfully, Jae was the voice of wisdom and restraint that Piper desperately needed to hear at this time. Piper was mere months away from getting out of prison, Jae explained. It would be colossally stupid and self-destructive to make a move on Nora, maybe get some temporary satisfaction, only to then be sent to the SHU and possibly run the risk of getting an assault charge on top of it all. Of course, Piper knew that Jae was right. It was Piper’s own self-destructive tendencies that had drawn her to Nora in the first place all those years ago. Her relationship with Nora had already cost Piper so much—nothing was worth adding to it.

After lunch, Nora attempted to say hello, but Piper coolly rebuffed her former lover’s outreach. She wanted as little as possible to do with Nora. For the rest of her time in Oklahoma City, Piper did as much as possible to keep herself from the Jansen sisters, maintaining an icy distance and refusing to even acknowledge their presence.

Sweet Home Chicago

In mid-January, Piper was told once more to pack out and board a plane to Chicago. She was joined on the flight by Nora and her sister, Hester. The marshals even made Piper sit next to Nora on the long flight to Chicago. Following some advice she’d received in Oklahoma City, Piper stored Vaseline under her ears and used it to periodically dab her lips to keep them from cracking during the long flight without access to water. 

When they landed, the three women were transported by van to the Metropolitan Correctional Center, Chicago. It was surreal for Piper to be travelling through the bustling metropolis that she knew well, but to be viewing it from the inside of a prison van. More surreal experiences were to come. 

Piper, Hester, and Nora were assigned to the psych ward at Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC), Chicago. There, dazed and zombie-like women (under heavy medication) wandered the halls staring blankly at television screens. It had the atmosphere of some sort of demented nursery school. Piper began to experience a thaw in her attitude toward her former girlfriend. They were no longer enemies with a tumultuous history. Now, they were fellow travelers on this bizarre journey together. In a chaotic and weird place like the psych ward of MCC Chicago, Nora Jansen represented a small piece of normalcy. And Piper soon found that in Orange is the New Black, Nora was her old funny, charming, scheming self.

In Orange is the New Black, Nora is possibly the reason Piper goes to jail. But eventually, Piper decides that she’ll never know the truth and forgives Nora.

Who Is Nora in Orange Is the New Black?

———End of Preview———

Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best summary of Piper Kerman's "Orange Is The New Black" at Shortform .

Here's what you'll find in our full Orange Is The New Black summary :

  • The real, more nuanced story behind the hit TV show
  • How upper-class Piper Kerman landed in prison on drug charges
  • The key lessons Kerman learned about society and herself

Carrie Cabral

Carrie has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember, and has always been open to reading anything put in front of her. She wrote her first short story at the age of six, about a lost dog who meets animal friends on his journey home. Surprisingly, it was never picked up by any major publishers, but did spark her passion for books. Carrie worked in book publishing for several years before getting an MFA in Creative Writing. She especially loves literary fiction, historical fiction, and social, cultural, and historical nonfiction that gets into the weeds of daily life.

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