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Responsibility and Environment

purple's picture


pg. 410

"Intimately connected, we're liable for it all. "

"I realized 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 expectiation?

A paradox for sure, but such a relief"

 This quote is an 

All Over Creation is a novel by Ruth Ozeki. In an interview, Ozeki says that "Nothing exists independantly of anything else." From a scientific standpoint we know this statement to be true, because no organism can exist in solitudud from the rest of the environment. Every piece of the environment is somehow connected other parts. In All Over Creation Ozeki creates a number of stories that all bind together in the setting of a potato farm community in Idaho. The characters behind each of these interconnected stories also prove the statement to be true. Ozeki uses this highly dependant relationships between the characters to show responsibility.

All of the main characters in the novel experience some sort of conflict involving responsibility. Each main character has something they should be responsible for, however what matters in regards to the conflict is how they handle that responsibility. For example, Frankie becomes responsible for a baby he does not know how to raise, and makes a difficult decision to leave his child with Cassie. 

The novel is a mix of multiple narratives that all connect, however the main protagonist of the story is Yumi Fuller, as her life is most prominetly tangled in each of the separate stories. Yumi becomes so wrapped up in her own life that she almost oblivious to main environmental concern that is so passionately argued over in the novel. Years after first leaving home, Yumi returns to the place she grew up when she finds out that her father is very sick. It seems that Yumi wants to come home to help her parents and finally sort things out with them, after everything that happened leading up to her departure. However, when she returns to Idaho, 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. It is evident that Yumi's motivations for returning to Liberty Falls were different from what was expected of her.

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 the drama that is Elliot.

Does Ozeki create make the characters deal with responsibility to imply that humans need to be responsible for the environment?

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 Llyod 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. If this is true, why is the arguably most important protagonist in the novel (Yumi) completely apathatic to anything other than her own problems?




Anne Dalke's picture

please go back and tag this as a web event.

I think you begin by flagging the *most* important , and paradoxical (and relieving!) quote in Ozeki's novel, about accepting responsibility while forgoing control, about loving without expectation.

And I think you end with a really good question, especially good in this context: "why is the protagonist completely apathetic?"

Can you build your paper around this question? If the book is about taking responsibility (while acknowledging that one cannot take control) in a complex, interrelated world, then why is the central character so uninterested in the larger environmental issues that the book so patently wrestles with?

Remember what Ozeki said (in the interview I read to you the day we began discussing the novel)?

"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...The good that I'll never run out of things to feel remorseful about. The bad that I am not willing or able to eradicate all the many causes of my environmental remorse..."

Is Yumi her? And if so...what is she saying about environmental education and activism and the possibility of change? Once you acknowledge that the system is just too complex to be controlled, what is the relationship between responsibility and change?