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Momoko, a quiet force

bothsidesnow's picture

In All Over Creation by Ruth Ozeki, the fight against genetically engineered food becomes intertwined with a multigenerational family’s struggle to repair the cracks in their relationships. Ozeki rotates through a small group of the characters, revealing their unshared thoughts about family, relationships, and the environment. While the relationship between Yumi and her father Lloyd becomes a central thread throughout, Yumi’s mother, Momoko, rarely enters the heated confrontations. Why does Ozeki overlook Momoko when she could have been a point of view narrator for some of the chapters? What role does Momoko occupy in her relationship with her family and with the environment?

“Finally, Momoko would press her lips together. ‘Hmmm,’ she would grunt. ‘Two peas in a pod.’ Only she’d pronounce it more like ‘Tsu pi-su ina pod-do,’ and then she’d give a little nod that made it for sure” (19).

Does Momoko feel left out of the strong albeit tumultuous connection that Lloyd and Yumi share? Or is she content with being a caring but more detached parent?

“I reached out and put my hand on her wrist. ‘Those are plans, Mom. Not weeds. You don’t want to be pulling those up.’ She looked up, and her eyes were wide and confused as she searched my face,” (333). 

As Momoko’s health deteriorates, she doesn’t recognize simple objects, such as chairs and lamps and here, plants versus weeds. In this conversation with Yumi, is Momoko’s unconscious mistake making Yumi realize cannot try to be the person she was when she ran away, fourteen years ago, that the past must be left alone? Connected with “giving everything away,” how much do these characters give back to the Earth? Or are they so concerned with their individual ways (Fullers and Seeds of Resistance vs Cyanco) of taking from it via food production?

“’No. Keeping them is not safe. Keeping is danger. Only safe way is letting go. Giving everything away. Freely. Freely’”(358).

Both Cyanco and the Lloyd’s potato farm are businesses, essentially for profit. However this statement from Yumi suggests that both are trying to guard their seeds, Cyanco with their Terminators and Lloyd with his pure, unmixed seeds. “Letting go” suggests that perhaps each is too stubborn with their ideas and are not willingly view the farming and food industry with different perspectives, and possibly compromises. Could “giving everything away” apply to the people too? Both business putting themselves out there for risk, with their ideas for the future of their business and for their relationships to better understand each other?

“’This one a girl flower,’ Momoko said ‘See? She got little baby squash.’ She stroked the shiny swollen ovule at the base of the petals, then tore off another piece of tape. ‘Her flower ust start to open see? But is too soon. She must wait.’ Deftly she sealed the petal’s tips shut. ‘Bee so quick, maybe he get inside with some other squash’s pollen, then baby is no good. You gotta shut her up tight until the right time’” (115).

Momoko’s work to keep her exotic seeds from mixing together is all consuming and can be ruined by one mistake of cross-contamination of seeds. Is she really referencing Yumi’s sexual awakening and the pregnancy that comes from her escapades? While Ozeki makes the role of Lloyd as a strict, authoritative father clear, Momoko appears to not have as much of a say in parenting Yumi. By using a flower metaphor, is she showing that she too disapproved of Yumi’s abortion and casual relationships? Are she and Lloyd more on the same page as Yumi’s parents than what is shown through their individual interactions with her?

The dialogue between other characters reveals the tension left over from twenty-five years ago, when Yumi ran away from home. Working on her part of the Fuller family business, do Momoko’s few but purposeful words mean more than the hasty, blunt exchanges between Yumi and everyone else? 

With a main theme being control in both one’s relationships and with the earth’s products, do her words and subtle actions given Momoko power and authority, instead of being mistaken as submissive? How much do Momoko’s words and/or wisdom help the others grow? Her health deteriorates, rendering her unable to think clearly. Is her negative change juxtaposed with the positive changes that she pushes on the others, especially with “letting go?” The characters that Ozeki chose for narrating are portrayed as selfish and jealous. Cass wants what Yumi has, children of her own, while Yumi seems to be more preoccupied with herself and her physical relationships instead of her kids. Lloyd is incredibly stubborn in protecting his potatoes, and Frank becomes swept up in the protest, not even attending the birth of his daughter. With Yumi pulling up the plants and telling them that keeping is dangerous, is she challenging them move beyond their deep-rooted pasts and create better futures, environmentally and socially? 


Anne Dalke's picture

your project puts me in mind of an essay that Jody and I like but couldn't quite find space for in this semester's reading list: Paula Gunn Allen's "“Kochinnenako in Academe: Three Approaches to Interpreting a Keres Indian Tale.” Allen describes the political implications of a narrative structure used by the Laguna Pueblo, which grants equilibrium to all factors in a tale, an even distribution of value among all elements in a field: "no single element heroes, no villains; no chorus, no "setting" minor characters...the foreground slips along from one focal point to another until all the pertinent elements in the ritual conversation have had their say...the focus of the action shifts...there is no 'point of view.'"

I like using this essay in my environmental studies classes because it upends the conventional generic distinctions between major and minor characters (not to mention between characters and setting). And I see you doing something similar here, in bringing Momoko to the foreground. So I'd say something along those lines in your opening or conclusion: that by attending to her, you are shifting the center of values in the novel.

I'm also quite moved by the ease with which she uproots herself to go to Hawaii @ the end...