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One Letter at a Time

changing18's picture

Blood is thicker than water.  True, but culture, era, structure, class, all matter when dealing with the complexity of a family’s relationship.  Last week I discussed the importance of Willa Mae Beede’s songs in Getting Mothers Body, and this week I want to understand the importance of Yummy’s letters to her parents in All Over Creation.  This analysis is much more complex than what I thought the purpose of Willa Mae’s songs were because Yummy’s character is more complex in the culture she was raised in, time she was raised, family structure and her family’s economic status. Although there isn’t a specific correlation between Willa Mae’s songs and Yummy’s letters aspects of the books, these are important aspects of the book because it allows us to understand more about these characters and their relationship between their family and friends. One’s understanding of the role of a parent and child is an important part in analyzing these complex relationships in the story which may be different than a reader’s own experience.  Yummy having decided to run away from home, made her a distant character to not only her family but readers.  What we want to find is whether these letters are an attempt at trying to reconnect with her parents despite the very factual based updates on her life.  During a discussion in class, classmates of mine noticed her letters had a lack of intimacy and the very surface level information, and formed the opinion that her distance with them made her disrespectful.  Yet what I got out of her letters was an attempt at staying connected to her family despite their ideals were very different. So with a closer examination at these letters, we can find that the letters were an attempt at trying to build a relationship with her parents.

First, Llyod and Momoko grew up around the 1930s-40s in Japan, which comes a whole set of ideology that may differ from modern society today.  So when we think about why Yummy left it is crucial to remember that the philosophies from one generation to the next can be drastically different.  Being faced with the challenge of not being understood, especially by one’s parents, can be especially draining and a heavy weight on one’s shoulders.  So in Yummy’s case I think this is why she left in the first place.  Yet when she reached out to her parents, it was with a sympathy for how they might feel about her leaving.  She mentioned in her very first letter, “You probably still think I’m an evil sinner and I’ll go to hell for all my wrongdoings, and if that causes you grief, I’m sorry… The shame was yours, and I knew if I stayed, I’d be poisoned by it” (37).  Thus it seems as though she still has sadness for leaving but her ideals were too drastically different to keep her to stay.  Lloyd and Momoko were accustomed to a certain lifestyle that Yummy did not live by.  So when she initially ran away, although it can be seen as abandonment, she would have lived with the shame that her father had of her while living at home.  By writing this letter at least it showed what mindset she had about leaving so it can give a better understanding of what she was thinking and push away some of the judgements we make about Yummy leaving home.

It is necessary to address that the role of a parent and child in a family relationship is what makes understanding this relationship between Yummy and her parents so difficult.  In this relationship, Lloyd, her father had much more drastically different ideals than Yummy causing friction between the two.  Lloyd was pretty strict with his ideology and Yummy wanted only a life where she wouldn’t be subjected to the views her father would put on her.  An important part of this particular family structure is that she is the only child which puts more pressure on her to try and be the ideal child her parents wanted her to be.  Fortunately Cass, Yummy’s childhood friend, was there to be a caregiver to Lloyd and Momoko in their old age but this also made Yummy’s abandonment more apparent. As the only child, it made this situation more complicated because everyone looked to her to be the one taking care of her parents.  In an idealistic world, this is how it would happen but she once again the shame that came with seeing her parents would burden her too.  Yet once she found out the condition they were in, she did come without hesitation, because she still cares for her parents.  She even brings her three children along to meet them, which also shows her longing for them to reconnect.

Yummy had been pretty blunt about what was happening in her life, but there were a few more letters that I think she truly wanted to connect.  The first was when she sent the tickets for her parents to come to her graduation.  She made it seem like they could come only if they wanted to but it is clear she had a yearning for them to be there because in the next letter to them she was upset about them not attending.  She wrote first, “I am enclosing two round-trip plane tickets for you and Mommy that I bought with my prize money. I hope you’ll come.”(40) then a month later she wrote, “I hate you,” (40) and this was her way of showing her ache to have her parents apart of her life.  Then when she had Phoenix and her other two children, it seemed like she would really like them to meet.  She even specifically says, “I wish you could meet him,” (42) about Phoenix in her letter.  I think she tried to give all this information to them because of the yearning for her parents to want to be apart of her life, but does not work up the courage to go see them herself.

In conclusion, Yummy’s letters were her way of trying to reconnect with her parents despite her lack of expression of emotions. It shows through her letters that she still had a real love for her parents and wanted to stay connected, but felt that their ideals and her life choice would continue to distance them.  This kept her away from them all those years.  To some readers this is no excuse for not taking care of the parents that raised her. Again culture, era, structure, class, are a significant factor in understanding how Yummy’s relationship between her and her parents.  Though she seemed distant, her letters were her way of bridging the gap that she felt she could not achieve in person.


Anne Dalke's picture

I’m liking the move you make to read both Willa Mae’s songs and Yumi’s letters as ways of understanding the relationships among characters. If you are planning on re-writing this paper for next week, I’d say either dump the songs @ this point, or elaborate on the likeness/ difference between them and the letters. Both reach across absence, but the first are sung by a dead mother, the second written by a runaway daughter…what do those comparisons yield, in terms of an argument?

…since constructing an argument is really your challenge for next week. You’ve gathered lots of quotes about what Yumi and her children wrote and said; how can you now shape these into a claim that makes sense, makes meaning, of the details?

You start and end by claiming that Yumi’s letters are her attempts to stay connected with her parents, to bridge a gap and build a relationship. And you do a wonderful job of showing how unemotional or even hateful speech can be expressions of yearning, of an ache to connect. But there’s no movement in the paper; you have the answer before you begin and your “conclusion” is identical with your opening.

I think one of the most interesting observations you make is that our own positionality in a particular culture will affect our interpretations of event in a novel (I had a sense, during class discussion, that the Asian students were outraged @ Yumi for “abandoning” her parents, expecting her to be more respectful, to show more filial piety; while the Americans were more drawn to her search for independence and self-discovery. (Cathy actually developed an explicit contrast between communitarian and individualistic cultures.) So now I’m wondering whether interviewing several of your classmates about their different views of the novel might enable your upcoming revision of this paper to have more energy, more questioning, less certainty??

Another possibility would be to dig into the relationship between “identity and environment” in the novel: what effect do the different landscapes of Idaho and Hawaii have, for example, on the interactions among the characters?

Coupla other short notes:
* fact-check: Lloyd grew up in Idaho, not Japan, and brought Momoko back after the war (so she was “grown” by 1945)

* I’m puzzled by your use of “we” (as in “What we want to find” and “with a closer examination at these letters, we can find…”) ); for whom are you speaking? (especially given the ways in which you suggest that cultural difference leads to different interpretations….)

* Let’s also talk in conference next week about why clichés are pretty slippery/often not the best choices in papers like these. Just because there’s a catchy phrase saying so doesn’t prove that “blood is thicker than water”; calling the challenges of being understood “draining and a heavy weight” seems a confusing conflation of two different sensations….

Looking forward to finding out where you’ll head next!