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Seeds and Potatoes as Metaphors in “All Over Creation”—First Draft

Sasha M. Foster's picture

In “All Over Creation”, the literal seeds and potatoes that drive the plot’s tension are simultaneously used as multifaceted metaphors for the characters’ sense of self, their emotions, and their story.


Potatoes primarily denote the characters’ feelings about themselves within the novel.  For example, Yumi compares herself indirectly to the potatoes her father cultivates, saying, “… potatoes, like human children, are wildly heterozyqous… It may prove superior to the parent plant or may be wildly inferior. At eight, gazing up at my father’s face, I didn’t know which was worse.” (57) She still holds the worries of her eight year old self, preventing her from moving on from the life she had up until running away. Momoko believes that this is somewhat natural, and tells her

““Grown-up plant is seed, too. Like those ones… those ones are only flowers now, but they gona be seeds.” She stretched her arms to accommodate the whole garden. “Everyone gonna be seeds.”” (Page 332) In this scene, Yumi is struggling with both the idea that she might be responsible for her father’s first heart attack, and her own inability to be a “grown-up” and act like an adult.  “A potato is a fat, round, dumpy white thing, wrapped in burlap, rolling around on a dirty stage.” (7) Even into her adulthood, Cass believes herself to hold all of the negative traits listed as faults in potatoes.




The seeds and potatoes are also used as an external manifestation of the characters’ emotions. For example, in the wake of the car bombing and Charmey’s death, the state of the fields reflect the exhaustion and grief of the characters: “Now that the vines had wilted and died, the fields looked like the aftermath of a battle, but underneath the earth the tubers were hardening off and soon would be ready for harvest.” (392) This foreshadows the ending of the novel, in that in the finale all of the characters leave the farm more prepared to deal with the realities of life. 


Seeds, even more than potatoes, are used to convey the overall story of each character in the novel. This is stated almost outright by Yumi when she tells her daughter Ocean “Seeds tell the story of migrations and drifts, so if you learn to read them, they are very much like books … “ (171). Within the novel, seeds act almost like narrators for each character, revealing to the reader the implications of their thoughts and feelings. By the end of the novel, Yumi becomes more aware of the importance seeds hold in the narratives of all the characters, saying, “… there [will] be perennials. And volunteers. And the odd seeds, spit from the lips of children, or shit by birds or small animals, or blowing I the wind. Life is evanescent, but left to itself it rarely fails to offer some consolation.” (411)Shortly before his death, Lloyd has a dream in which he is ““… there… At the beginning…[of] Everything… Of life… So Beautiful! Everyone I love… was there. Momoko. My father, mother. All my seeds…”” (Page 366) The seeds’ presence in this scene represents both rebirth and death, the conclusion of Lloyd’s story and continuation of Yumi’s.

            In her book “All Over Creation,” Ruth Ozeki uses both seeds and potatoes as environmental manifestations of the character’s impression of themselves, their emotions, and their story arc.


jccohen's picture

Sasha M. Foster,

You have some nice insights here about Ozeki’s use of potatoes and seeds as metaphors, and I think your richest examples have to do with seeds as “the overall story” of characters in the novel.  In fact, in that fourth paragraph you seem to go beyond seeds as characters’ stories to a larger, more interesting claim about seeds as a family or even a human story.

In this draft, I’d say that what you’re saying about potatoes and seeds isn’t yet coming together fully – that is, you treat potatoes and seeds somewhat separately, and also “sense of self, their emotions, and their story” somewhat separately, and it’s not yet clear to me what you want the reader to make of the significance of all this.  That’s a question toward your revision for this coming week!