There is a complex, yet undeniable relationship between environment and identity. Every aspect of one’s identity has been molded by the environments they have resided in. In All Over Creation, Ruth Ozeki deliberately lays out an elaborate web of almost inconceivable connections between her characters and environments to convey the importance of the relationship between environment and identity.
When reading novels, I generally consider environment to be anything outside of a character. This could be people, objects, ideas, or emotions, anything that could directly or indirectly influence the character in focus. Within environment there are two branches: natural environment and social environment. Natural environment is relatively simple. Our natural environments are the locations which influence our lives. In All Over Creation, the protagonist, Yumi’s, natural environments include Idaho, Hawaii, and the various destinations she inhabited in between. In contrast, social environments are the tangible and intangible convergences between the lives of two or more living beings.
The most common manner in which natural environments impact identity is to limit or encourage certain behaviors and thoughts. Yumi Fuller grows up on a potato farm in Liberty Falls, Idaho. The monotony of farm life combined with ethnic homogeneity are a limiting factor in Yumi’s youth. Her limits push her to rebel in an effort to create an individual identity. She explains, “I was a random fruit in a field of genetically modified potatoes,” displaying the isolation she felt from the rest of the community (4).
The line between natural and social environments becomes fuzzy when talking about the population of a specific location. Within many regions, Liberty Falls being no exception, the population’s identity or lack of members can influence the environment just as much as the environment influences identity. Therefore, it is important to acknowledge the relationship between environment and identity as symbiotic in nature.
Being the sole Japanese, albeit half, child born into a white dominated community, caused disturbances in Yumi’s social environment. Her irregularity, as a minority in Liberty Falls, changed the ways other interacted with her. She was often ostracized in minor fashions. In the elementary school Thanksgiving play, “Yummy was always the Indian Princess […] It wasn’t like they didn’t have real Indians in school. They did” (7). Yummy was chosen to fulfill a role which represented a minority, because in her community she was the minority, not the “real Indians.” Her isolation, in turn, causes Yumi to behave in such a way that she begins to stand out for her rebelliousness, rather than for an ethnic identity she has no control over. By shifting others’ focus from what she cannot control, to what she can control, provides Yumi with feelings of power born from the reclaiming her identity. Eventually sexual interaction with her ninth grade teacher, Elliot Rhodes, who has a self proclaimed, “Asian fetish,” takes Yumi too far in her rebellion and destroys her sense of control over her identity. At the age of fourteen, Yumi runs away from home and only returns twenty-two years later when her parents are nearing death.
Within social environment there is a subclass— interactions within families— which leads to what I will refer to as “hereditary identity.” For this purpose, family will consist of a group of people who support each other both physically and mentally while sharing a roof for extended amounts of time.
The first family introduced in All Over Creation, and the most central to the plot, is the Fuller’s. The family originally consists of Yumi, her mother, Momoko, and her father, Lloyd. The hereditary identity which Yumi receives is made up of her parents’ physical, emotional, and habitual traits. In Chapter 1, Yumi states, “honestly, I had never liked potatoes much. I preferred rice, a taste I inherited from my mother, Momoko” (4). This seemingly insignificant preference is a small manifestation of Momoko’s identity within Yumi.
Further into the novel, Yumi reads a book called “The Harvest of the Years,” to her daughter: “‘… The newborn child has a heritage of tendencies and inclinations which furnish the foundation of groundwork from which he must build his house of Life.’” (177). Ozeki’s emphasis on family dynamics and identity call attention to the enormous amount of identity that is inherited. Throughout the plot, Lloyd and Yumi’s stubborn personalities mirror each other, another form of hereditary identity. Likewise, Yumi’s identity is imposed upon her son Phoenix, who almost reciprocates her actions of running away from the family at the exact age of fourteen. Again, in the character of Elliot Rhodes, parent’s identities influence their child. In a conversation between Elliot and Yumi, Elliot shares that his father, “ran out on my mom when I was just a kid. […] He was a real womanizer […] My dad was a lousy role model” (224). Elliot’s warped personality can be somewhat attributed to his upbringing. The only role model he had was a warped man. Despite realizing his father was not a decent man, Elliot subconsciously picks up the traits of womanizing from him.
Within her novel, Ozeki’s characters reveal their pasts and logic to give their actions a strong sense of reality and draw in readers. She then reveals her intent of questioning the compositional makeup of human identity.
Ozeki, Ruth. All Over Creation. Penguin, 2004. Print.