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hsymonds's picture

All Over Creation, by Ruth Ozeki, is not an environmental treatise or manifesto. It is a novel, a work of fiction, and it is about people and the complex relationships between them. In the midst of daddy issues, child molestation, pornography, cancer, baby-stealing, miscarriages, abortion, cultural appropriation, Alzheimer’s, and bombs, the environmental side of the book can seem secondary. And yet, as the protagonist, Yumi, tells us at the beginning of the story, “It starts with the earth. How can it not?” (Ozeki 3).  The very point that the novel is making is that we cannot separate ourselves from the environment. We shape it and it shapes us in ways of which we are unaware. Ozeki demonstrates these connections through the motif of seeds.

            The connection between seeds and people is established on the first page, when Yumi asks the reader to “imagine you are a seed.” She then takes the reader on the seed’s journey as it grows into a plant, which is then uprooted to make way for the staple crop of her home state of Idaho: potatoes. She goes on to explain that she is that seedling, uprooted because she is different (Ozeki 3-4). She returns to this metaphor and this conflict later when she describes the discovery of the Russet Burbank potato. This occurred when Luther Burbank decided to plant the seeds from a potato seed ball that he found. This method of planting a potato crop is unpopular, Yumi explains, “because potatoes, like human children, are wildly heterozygous.” Potatoes grown from seeds “regress, displaying a haphazard variety of characteristics,” instead of being identical to the parent plant, as potatoes are when they are grown from the eyes of other potatoes (Ozeki 56-57). This reveals the reason for the decay of Yumi’s relationship with her father. Lloyd, an uptight potato farmer, expects his daughter to be a replica of himself, but while they share many traits, he and Yumi are not the same person, and they both have trouble accepting this, as she rebels against his authority and his way of life.

            For Momoko, seeds are more than a metaphor; they are as alive for her as any person. “‘They’re all she remembers,’” Lloyd says, and indeed, she has reached the point where she cannot always recognize her own daughter (Ozeki 104, 333). She hardly seems even to distinguish between people and seeds. When Lloyd refuses to acknowledge Yumi upon her return, Momoko throws poppy seeds over him, laughing at the pun (since “Poppy” can be a nickname for father.) Pouring water over the seeds that fell at his feet, she orders, “‘Okay, poppy. Now you grow up!’” (Ozeki 71-72). She considers Lloyd’s behavior to be childish and sees him as an obstinate seed, afraid to break through its shell into the sun (he perceives Yumi as a “variegated confusion of light”), and she treats him as such, not only by “watering” him, but also by talking to him as she does to her seeds (Ozeki 72). However, she does not think of seeds only as the earliest stage of life; Yumi later finds her talking to mature plants and calling them seeds (Ozeki 331). Momoko then informs her that “‘Grown-up plant is seed, too...Those ones are only flowers now, but they gonna be seeds...Everyone gonna be seeds’” (Ozeki 332). Momoko thinks of life in cycles, and for her, the most important stage of that cycle is the seed. This is the stage that allows the cycles to continue, and it is the stage that has the most potential, all of one plant’s having been reached, all of the next plant’s yet to be. Her use of the word “everyone” has two implications. The first is that she considers her seeds and plants to be people; the second is that she believes the seed stage happens in humans’ lives as well as in plants’.

            In a poignant scene near the end, Momoko’s linking of seeds and people is used to comment on the conflict between Yumi and Lloyd. When Geek proposes to Lloyd that people “adopt” the seeds he and Momoko have cultivated, Lloyd initially protests “‘giving away [his] seeds’” on the grounds that “‘We have to keep them safe!’” He relents when Momoko assures him that “‘Keeping is danger. Only safe way is letting go’” (Ozeki 357-358). Though no one mentions Yumi, it is clear that this statement refers to her as well. Lloyd had tried to keep her confined within a narrow lifestyle when she wanted to choose another path, so she literally ran away. While this in some ways made her stronger and more independent, it also damaged her, and it severed her ties with her family for almost twenty-five years. Had Lloyd not tried to “keep” her restricted to his ideal, she may not have run away, and they all might have been safer.

            A motif of seeds as a metaphor for people pervades Ruth Ozeki’s novel All Over Creation, and influences the way her characters view the world. This metaphor is seen in Momoko’s relationship with her plants, and in Lloyd and Yumi’s relationship with each other. Seeds represent birth, life, death, and most of all, change, a process that occurs within each of the characters over the course of the novel.





Works Cited

 Ozeki, Ruth. All over Creation. New York: Penguin, 2004. Print.


jccohen's picture


I like a lot the way you move from the point that this isn’t an environmental treatise to the idea that this is all about not being able to separate ourselves from the environment.  And then I wonder about the point that we shape/are shaped…this is perhaps too separated a way of looking at it to really get at the notion of interconnection - ?  And actually it seems to me that you’re getting at something more complex, harder to articulate (which in a sense requires separating out) in the course of the essay…more on this later.

Interesting connection between potatoes from seeds vs potato eyes and the “decay of Yumi’s relationship with her father.”  I’d suggest that this is further complicated by Lloyd’s own championing of diversity – in both nature and his own marriage; when Yumi comes home with these “diverse” children, in a sense she has lived out Lloyd’s legacy (e.g. in his newsletter about “non-native species” and “immigrants”) – and yet neither of them can quite make or live this connection…

Perhaps the richest sequence here is your wonderful riff on Momoko and seeds.  And this seems to be the heart of the essay.  I’m particularly struck by your claim that “For Momoko, seeds are more than a metaphor,” and this goes beyond the “linking of seeds and people” to something about a cycle of birth, growth, etc., that you’re starting to get at here.  Can you take this even further, perhaps returning after your analysis of seeds to the question you raise early about the non-separation between humans and environment?