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Environment and Identity in “All Over Creation”

ai97's picture

Environment and Identity in “All Over Creation”

All Over Creation by Ruth Orzeki chronicles the interactions and chain of events surrounding Japanese-American Yumi Fuller when she returns to her hometown Liberty Falls, Idaho to take care of her sick parents Lloyd and Momoko after running away when she was 14. She finds herself in multiple, simultaneous conflicts involving her best friend Cassie Fuller, her former teacher and rapist Elliot Rhodes, and a group of young activists called the Seeds of Resistance who fight against the production of genetically modified organisms in food. Yumi’s best friend Cassie Fuller is heavily influenced by the natural and social environments around her. From her hometown Liberty Falls, Idaho to the spontaneity of Yumi and her family’s presence, Cass is continuously shaped and molded by her environment.

              Liberty Falls, Idaho is portrayed as a small, conservative town right at the heart of America’s potato-cultivating industry. Cassie and Yumi grew up as neighbors and close friends in Liberty Falls until Yumi ran away at 14. Although we aren’t given clear, exact images of Yumi’s various whereabouts after leaving, we know she finally settled down in Hawaii. In sharp contrast, we are well aware that Cass remained at Liberty Falls and continues to live there presently. Perhaps the environment of Liberty Falls shaped Cassie’s adult demeanor -- she is a responsible, simple, largely obedient, small-town woman. Just as Liberty Falls may fall under the shadows of neighboring cities and exciting regions, Cass is often overshadowed by the overwhelming presence and light-like quality Yumi carries.

             The arrival of Yumi and her children play a major role in Cassie’s changing environment. Early in the novel, we discover that Cass had breast cancer and learned she would never conceive children. This was devastating for both her and her husband, Will. But although this was excruciatingly painful, both Cass and Will became used to the sullen fact. They grew to accept this, occasionally having sex now and then to “try again.” Yet with the arrival of Yumi and her children, Cassie’s social environment is altered and she is reminded how agonizing it is to not have children. The environment Yumi’s children creates resurface and push her desires for wanting a child. There is a greater pressure and tension brought by the close proximity of Yumi’s children. Yumi’s baby, Poo, especially plays on Cassie’s heartstrings. She slowly tries to spend increasingly more time with him. She offers to take Poo out for a few hours, suggesting it casually, “like it didn't matter to her one way or the other. And it didn't matter. Not at first” (Page 128). But having Poo with her allowed Cass to momentarily escape her infertility, and exist in an almost dream-like state for those few hours every week. “"When she had him along, the world looked different, and she liked the way she saw things she'd never noticed before...But she noticed other things, too -- the way she herself felt acutely visible with the baby in her arms, and the way some people's faces lit up when they saw a child. His warm weight was like living ballast, thrumming with energy, giving her substance. Folks were drawn to that” (Page 130). Poo allows Cass to feel like the mother she could have been. The sudden insertion of these children into Cassie’s environment -- Poo, Ocean, and Phoenix -- make Cass feel a heightened spitefulness towards Yumi. She often thinks to herself and even once says to Yumi that Yumi does not deserve her three beautiful children. The changing social environment brought by Poo, Ocean, and Phoenix make Cass -- perhaps rightfully -- jealous, but also provide her a new hope that grew dormant over time.

             Cass is altered by her surrounding natural and social environments. The long, consecutive years she spent in Liberty Falls played a role in the woman she became, and the arrival of Yumi’s children in her life heightened her fervent desire to have children again.


jccohen's picture


I appreciate your focus on Cassie Fuller, and agree that she offers a rich “case” in terms of the identity-environment relationship.  You do a nice job with how Poo influences Cass’ development.  Overall, I’d like to see you go deeper/get more complex with your analysis of Cass in relation to her social and physical environment (you reference both in your conclusion). 

As you note, Cass begins and then stays in Liberty Falls, which seems to make her a “responsible, simple, largely obedient, small-town woman.”  But from the beginning, Cass was close with Yumi – the “different” one – and we also see how Cass takes up connections with the Seeds, and then differs from her husband with regard to the lawsuit.  And of course she finally takes in Charmey and Frank’s child.  So she doesn’t seem to be so “simple,” at least as the book progresses… Also, you note the breast cancer; do you mean this to reflect the influence of the “natural” (actually, chemical) environment?  Are there other ways Cass’ identity is intertwined with the physical environment?  I’m not suggesting you need to go in any or all of these particular directions; rather, I’m pushing toward a bolder, more complex claim about Cass’ identity and environment…  Yes, she’s “continuously shaped and molded by her environment”; can you go further/say more?