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Edited Paper 9: Humans Don’t Have Absolute Power

isabell.the.polyglot's picture

            While the usual perception of the environment is that it is there to serve us, the reality is that the environment is much larger than we can conceive. In fact, the environment is so large that it encompasses the human race as a part of it, since everything is so interconnected there can’t possibly be distinct separations between humans and the environment.  In her novel, Ozeki argues through the contradictory statements of various characters and through her own contradictions that adaptability is key to surviving in coexistence with nature, and that we shouldn’t force nature to change according to our will. Rather, we should adapt to the changes that nature throws our way. Interesting claim

            Firstly, Ozeki draws an analogy between (nature and humans  through the idea ofmonoculturestate more fully). Geek explains this perfectly when he says that “engineers have decided that potatoes all have to be the same size. Diversity is inconvenient to mechanized farming” (125). In the same sense, diversity is inconvenient to an organized group of people, a society. Diversity can cause conflict and make it more difficult for people to get along. Ozeki includes an example of this by describing Yumi’s experience in her almost all-white town. Yumi felt like she “was a random fruit in a field of genetically identical potatoes” (4). While it could be said that she benefited from being different and that it allowed her to flourish, her mixed-race background also caused a divide between her and the rest of her classmates. It seemed as though people didn’t truly understand her, which is why she was so intrigued by Elliot when he came along with his ideas of cultural appropriation and exoticism. Through Elliot, Ozeki not only allows the townspeople to be criticized for their reactions to diversity, but also highlights how even some people who are well-versed in cultural appropriation can fetishize non-white (typically Asian) women. By drawing the parallel between the standardized potatoes and the white people in Idaho, Ozeki is simultaneously criticizing monoculture in farming and in some American societies.  

            In a similar fashion, Ozeki describes the contrasting reactions of Phoenix and Ocean’s classmates towards their presence. Phoenix has problems in school, most likely due to the fact that he looks more like his father than he does a white person. Ocean, on the other hand, is safe from the other kids because, as Phoenix says, “[s]he’s blond” (238). Though Phoenix and Ocean are of the same blood and from the same background, they are treated differently solely based on what the classmates see them as. Ocean passes as white, so she has the privilege of not being bullied. It doesn’t make a difference to their classmates whether or not they come from the same family, what matters is the way they look. The classmates are obviously extremely sheltered and do not encounter mixed race children a lot, so when someone like Phoenix challenges their usual perception of race, they are unable to adapt to this idea. Only when someone looks like them do they think that they are of the same kind. Ozeki points this out very clearly and in doing so, emphasizes how arbitrary the line is between acceptance and discrimination.

On the one hand, Ozeki discusses how homogeneity can affect a society, but she also talks about how homogeneity can affect those who are not included within this homogenous group. The varying experiences of Ocean and Phoenix growing up is an example of how people adapt and change in accordance with how they are treated. Ocean is much less bitter because she was treated as more of a member of the community than Phoenix due to her white-passing appearance. She can afford to be nice, while Phoenix must constantly be on his toes, defending himself. Phoenix is also older and therefore more perceptive of the microaggressions and the acts of discrimination that occur around him, while Ocean may be more oblivious to them. Phoenix possibly also receives these microaggressions and acts of discrimination more often, which may have led him to be more perceptive and aware of these issues.

            Moreover, Ozeki furthers this claim by pointing out the hypocrisy in the typical American outlook on foreigners. On the topic of crops, she says:

“And while we are on the subject of Exotics, there is an idea in circulation that these so-called “aggressive” non-native plants are harmful, invasive, and will displace “native” species. How ironic to hear these theories propounded by people of European ancestry in America! Just consider this: Not a single one of the food crops that make the U.S. an agricultural power today is native to North America. Our plants are as immigrant as we are!” (67)

Once again, a parallel is drawn in which Ozeki highlights how ridiculous white Americans are for being so scared of immigrant plants and humans, when the foundation of the country was based on immigrant plants and humans. Both Lloyd and Geek argue for the necessity of diversity for plants and humans, which were both important in building up the history of the United States. The history of plants is much like the history of humans on this continent.

However, one point on which Ozeki seems to be inadvertently contradicting herself is in her opinions on life and death in nature and in humans. On the one hand, she claims that humans are a part of these natural processes, and she argues that we should not interfere with nature in this way. She depicts the Seeds of Resistance as sympathetic characters, thus allowing us to align ourselves with the anti-GMO side of the argument. This means that we end up supporting those who don’t believe in human intervention in the natural processes. At the same time, she describes how Yumi’s abortion was the catalyst to the entire destruction of her family, but also allowed Yumi to free herself of Elliot. In a sense, Yumi had the Terminator gene (a synthetic, man-made gene) to go through with her abortion. She had the patent that “permits its owners to create a sterile seed by cleverly programming a plant’s DNA to kill its own embryos”, which is essentially what abortion is (301). She was definitely far too young and not ready enough to have a child, so she benefited from the technology that allowed her to control reproduction, much like how corporations benefit from the new Terminator technology. Earlier, Ozeki connected Yumi to non-manipulated nature, yet at this point, Yumi is herself one of those who manipulate nature. 

Perhaps by describing Yumi as benefitting from both non-manipulated and manipulated nature, Ozeki is arguing that a balance must be found between environmental effects on humans and human attempts at controlling nature. The changes that humans have made on nature are perhaps irreparable, and some changes have been advantageous while others have not. The key to navigating this relationship is to realize that we are merely small actors in the much larger environment, and that we should not falsely deceive ourselves into thinking that we can completely manipulate things to our benefit without any negative consequences. Nature acts according to its own will. It is impossible for us to control everything about it. Ozeki is perhaps arguing that we should learn to be more adaptable to the surprises in life, and that instead of forcing things to adapt to our standards, we should instead adapt to nature’s standards.


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