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Without Labels How Will You Know You're Not a Toaster?

Tralfamadorian's picture


“Everyone knew that the side dishes were typecast. The carrot was a tall redhead named Rusty. The Green Beans were a pair of skinny twins. The cherry Tomato went to a rosy second grader with shiny cheeks. The corn was a tawny kid named Kellogg. Face it. What is a potato? A potato is a fat, round, dumpy white thing, wrapped in burlap, rolling around on a dirty stage. Some kids never had to be vegetables at all. Some kids got to be human beings-Pilgrims or Indians- and eat the rest of the kids for dinner.”

            In Ruth Ozeki’s novel, All Over Creation, Cass makes an extremely intuitive observation about the way that the Thanksgiving Plays works. This play is a microcosm of what life is like in the real world for Cass and other characters in this book. Many characters are typecasted and judged based on their own appearances, just like the children are cast in the school play based on their looks. This discrimination is only amplified by the fact that they live in the extremely rural town of Liberty Falls, Idaho. This sense of discrimination and monoculture gives every narrator a type of insight that seems out of place in Liberty Falls. This insight among other things creates juxtaposition between The Fuller Family, the Seeds of Resistance and the rest of the town.

        When thinking of small farming towns, one thinks vast expansions of crops, quaint houses, and typically a very monocultural population. The Fuller family is anything but a monocultural family. Everyone has a cultural difference that sets them apart from the rest of the town. For most of the Family it is their skin color and culture, for Cass it’s the fact that she is overweight and associates with the Fuller Family, and because Lloyd married Momoko he is also a part of this cultural difference in Liberty Falls. In town people seem to often be ignorant and insulting to the family. It can often be slight, for example, when Momoko finds she has a natural gift of taking care of crops. Her neighbor says, “She may be yeller but her thumb sure is green.” Though this may have been meant as a compliment it can be taken very negatively. Another example of this is how everyone in the town pronounces Yumi’s name Yummy, no matter how many times she has corrected them.

          The Seeds of Resistance have a set goal for coming to Liberty Falls, that goal being to visit Lloyd and Momoko and soak up their infinite wisdom. The Seeds believe that they are helping the environment by making people aware of how big industries are ruining crops by changing the composition of seeds, so they can sell more products and make the farmers buy more of their seeds. Their passion leads them to Liberty Falls where they are met with excitement from the Fuller Family and disillusionment from authorities and many other town Members. According to authorities they are disturbing the peace and are not welcome because they are “dirty commie hippies”. Later on in the novel the Seeds of Resistance begin to get hate mail for their website that harnesses a very loving and intimate relationship with nature and the environment. Because of its risqué theme the Seeds of Resistance are threatened and called hateful names even though they were just trying to establish a means for connecting the world to nature and getting a little extra cash on the side. The Seeds are different they lead a different lifestyle, and as a result they are forced to leave town to keep themselves and the Fullers Safe.

            An even deeper cut of this discrimination is when Phoenix is arrested for carrying a knife to school. The only apparent reason that Phoenix is getting picked on is because he does not look like everyone else. He is darker than the other students in his school and this translates to the kids as different and therefore, wrong. This is exemplified when he tells Yumi that the kids like Ocean pretty well and includes the fact that she is blonde. He is implying that her fair hair sets her apart from Phoenix and establishes her with everyone else in school. Phoenix has the same insight that his family and friends do and he wants to keep everyone safe. When he feels threatened he is forced to act in a way that is out of character for him. Though Phoenix  may be portrayed as somewhat of a problem child for Yumi, he is not likely to carry a knife around for any other reason but protection. The kids that bully Phoenix however have a different motive. Their motive is to scare and terrorize Phoenix. The fact that Phoenix gets arrested for a knife, but the rest of the town turns the other way when other kids threaten him with a gun is exemplary of the ignorant morals and institutionalized racism that exist in Liberty Falls. It is also likely that people in the town turned on him because like Yumi, according to the town, he is a bad seed.

            Yumi was an Indian Princess in the town play until she gets an abortion and runs away. She is then seen by the town as a bad apple. Cass is a pea until she gains weight and becomes a burlap wrapped potato. Lloyd was probably more respected before he had married Momoko. The Seeds of Resistance were just some dirty looking kids until they started protesting in Liberty Falls, then they were “dirty commie hippies,” looking to destroy farming. The pattern continues with many of the characters in All Over Creation. The climate of Liberty Falls is one filled with right winged conservatives and questionable ideas about what is right and what is wrong.  People in Liberty Falls, like in real life, are categorized by how they look and what decisions they make, no matter how small or private.  The only thing that keeps The Fuller Family, Cass, and The Seeds of Resistance from becoming defined by these labels is them knowing themselves, their morals, and their own thoughts. The Seeds are activists, not dirty commie hippies. Yumi is a successful professor and loving mom. Phoenix is his own person through and through. Lloyd Fuller was a loving father, grandfather and husband, albeit somewhat overprotective. These labels that they give themselves are the only things distinguishing them from a toaster. Geek would say that- “in this day and age, without a label, how can you tell.”