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Apathy and Acceptance

purple's picture

The novel All Over Creation by Ruth Ozeki creates a number of stories that all bind together in the setting of a potato farm community in Idaho. In an interview, Ozeki says that "Nothing exists independently of anything else." From a scientific standpoint we know this statement to be true, because no organism can exist in solitude from the rest of the environment. Every piece of the environment is somehow connected other parts. Each organism in an ecosystem has a responsibility in the system, and the system only functions if all the pieces are working properly  together. Ozeki creates interconnected stories in which characters are linked through relationships that develop throughout the novel. These sometimes complex relationships highlight the roles of change and responsibility to each other and to the bigger picture.

Each main character in the novel carries their own responsibilities, and conflict arises from the manner in which they handle that responsibility. For example, Frankie becomes responsible for a baby he does not know how to raise, but by the end of the novel, makes a difficult decision to leave his child with Cassie. On the other hand, Yumi’s father Lloyd faces his responsibility for Yumi in a way in which results in Yumi leaving her home for twenty-five years. In a moment of realization, Yumi says: “I ran away because he used to love me, and then somewhere along the line, when he couldn’t control me anymore, he just stopped” (Ozeki 242). Yumi changed in a way that her parents could not control, a fact which was too much for Lloyd to handle. Lloyd is so set in his ways that he is unable to take responsibility for something he does not have control over. As a result, Yumi’s life away from them spiraled uncontrollably, in ways she too is incapable of handling. Yumi’s past unstable family experiences transfer to the new family she has created for her self; broken relationships, and three children she is not quite sure how to raise. With this, Ozeki makes a greater link to human effect on the environment. In the same way that Yumi did not realize the effect of the change in her relationship with Lloyd until so many years later, in focusing on our own lives, the destruction caused by our actions is not evident until it all adds up many years later. The author also implies that events that occur in a system are not isolated, and the effects of one action or event can increase and continue to affect future generations.

Intertwined into Yumi’s personal story, Ozeki creates a narrative about a group of people passionately fighting against the use of genetically modified crops. Their narrative becomes part of Lloyd's story, and Lloyd is also, for his own reasons, invested in resisting the genetically modified potato crops. On the other side of the battle, the companies invested in producing and selling genetically modified plants, are equally as determined to further their own cause. Yumi becomes so wrapped up in her own life that she almost oblivious to this whole situation. When Yumi returns to Idaho to see her parents, she gets caught up in various situations that involve people from her past, and figuring out her feelings about her parents. Ironically, the one thing that takes a backseat is taking care of her parents. Yumi constantly gets frustrated with her mother's state of mind and is incapable of helping her father with his everyday needs. It ends up being Cassie who for the most part takes care of Yumi's children, and Cassie is also the one who had been caring for Yumi's parents since she left. Yumi often expresses her anger and distaste towards the the Seeds of Resistance group not for polital/ environmental reasons, but soley because of their involvement with her family. Yet, Yumi is so incaple of helping her father that Melvin takes care of Lloyd and when they leave, Yumi is unable to takeover for him. When the Seeds of Resistance group leaves Liberty Falls, it is as if Yumi gets a second chance to take care of her parents, and her children the way she should have been since she returned home. Instead she sets all of that aside to get re-aqainted with another personally drama involving Elliot. Yumi is like most people in the world who have so many of their own immediate life concerns that concerns about the world or the universe are too vast and daunting to even consider. Even if we may be aware of environmental problems that could be affecting us, we are unable to detach ourselves from our lives long enough to do anything about it. Ozeki implicitly brings up the question of whether we are responsible for something we individually have no control over. 

Yumi spends most of the novel trying to figure out how to come to terms with all the people and responsibilities she has in her life. Near the end, she comes to the conclusion that: " I was powerless to forecast or control any of our outcomes. But maybe that was the trick- to accept the responsibility and forgo the control? To love without expectation? A paradox for sure, but such a relief" (Ozeki 410). This is a turning point for Yumi's ideas on how to live her life, a shift from the apathetic attitude she seemed to show towards pretty much everything. Even more it is connected to each of our lives and our connection with the environment. We as individuals have very limited control over the the environmental changes that have been happening over the last decades, but there is still an inherent need for us to accept responsibility. 

Throughout the novel it is evident that Yumi's narrative is reflective of the experience of many people in regards to their relationship with the enviroment. However taking Yumi's story a step further, it is possible to make a connection between Yumi and the author herself. In an interview, Ozeki says: "I have a lot of remorse about the myriad ways that I am contributing to the [environmental] problem. All my novels...have been written from remorse..." In the novel, on the surface Yumi shows a lack of interest and involvement in the environmental concerns vocalized, however what she says towards the end presents a view that is applicable to much more than Yumi's specific problems.


Works Cited

Ozeki, Ruth L. All over Creation. New York: Viking, 2003. Print.


Anne Dalke's picture

I see you weaving together two arguments here, which don't quite 'jive' (or which, rather, I'd like you to work on connecting more strongly). On the one hand, you work with the paradoxical idea--which we discussed in your first draft--of accepting responsibility while foregoing control, of not mistaking outcomes for intentions and actions. That's the idea you develop in the next-to-last paragraph, where you call Yumi's articulation of it her 'turning point.' (Not sure you can actually claim that, since the novel ends @ this point, and we really don't know what happens 'after'!)

But, this time 'round, I actually find myself more intrigued by the paragraph before that, where you observe that

Yumi is like most people in the world who have so many of their own immediate life concerns that concerns about the world or the universe are too vast and daunting to even consider. Even if we may be aware of environmental problems that could be affecting us, we are unable to detach ourselves from our lives long enough to do anything about it.

This piece of your argument is less about the question of control than it is about scope -- can we look beyond our immediate concerns to the long-term implications of our behavior? -- and it's precisely the enlarged lens that we began to use in class last week, when we talked about The Sixth Extinction. As I said in response to Aazyah's essay, which ends w/ the same gesture, in asking us to think about our obligations to the earth and other species with whom we share it, in a relationship where there is no conscious or reciprocal commitment, you start to shift the discussion beyond the short-term, humancentric focus we've held to so far  (and which your paper is mostly devoted to, in the long second and third paragraphs, which are mostly devoted to plot summary).

I'm interested to see where we can go with this, and thank you for leading the way @ the very end of paragraph 3!