Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

You are here


rokojo's picture


Rose Kooper-Johnson

Paper #7

Oct. 23. 2014


A large part of Yumi’s life is centered around the rape she endured by her history teacher and the abortion he took her to have. This act sent shockwaves through her life, her father came down extremely strongly on her actions when he found out what she had done. The small conservative town and her father's disapproval made the trauma she endured all the more painful. By running away from home, yumi sought to rid herself of the poison in her environment. However, what she found was that she carried within her the poison of her home and the shame of her father. Although Yumi removing herself from the suffocating environment of her trauma was necessary, it took coming back to be able to heal and move through the events that happened to her

Yumi running away was vital for her survival. In a letter, she explains to her father why she left. “I could tell that your shame was going to fill every crack of the house, seep into every second of the day, and suck the air right out of me. And when the word got around, there wasn’t going to be any room left for me to breathe in the whole of Power Country that wasn’t taken up with your shame...I knew if I stayed, I’d be poisoned by it. I’d grow up all screwy and bent with the weight of your shame. So I left. It was an evacuation, Daddy.” (Ozeki, 37). She knew that she couldn’t live a real life where she had experienced her trauma. The environment was too suffocating, too poisonous. In her life away from home, she struggled initially, but achieved a good education and a relatively stable life. However, in the letters she writes home, it is apparent that she still cares very much about what her father thinks. Although she couldn’t live with him, she still needs his love and approval. She still feels the weight of his shame, feels his poison within her. In a later scene, Cass asks her to explain why she ran away, and Yumi says “I ran away because I loved him. I ran away because he used to love me, and then somewhere along the line, when he couldn’t control me anymore, he just stopped, you know?...I couldn’t stand that.” (Ozeki, 242). In running away, she made an attempt to pull herself away from the effects of her father’s lack of love, but remained haunted by it.

Upon returning, there is a lot of tension due to the years of pain endured by all members of Yumi’s community. She is being plunged back into the community where she experienced her trauma, one that has hardly changed since she left. Here is where she begins to excavate her painful past and attempt to work through the pain she has endured and caused. One of these factors is her reunion with Elliot. This is a complicated move on her part, one that is a little hard to understand. What Yumi is doing by getting back with him is attempting to sort through what he did to her, and what that means. She wants him to be accountable for his actions, for the pain he caused her. By getting back together, she is able to see clearly what he did to her, what she was attempting to do by running away, and how her trauma and leaving were so much more damaging than she had anticipated. She says, “He was my great leap forward, and I had loved him, and he had fallen short, landing me smack in the gulch. I’d been crawling out ever since, had even reached the far side of stability, until now, when life’s restless cycling delivered him back to me.” (Ozeki, 213). Here, by being with him, she realizes what effect he has had on her life. She realizes that her whole life has been shaped by what he did to her. Being away from him, she had achieved a level of stability, however it wasn’t a true stability as it was shattered when he entered her life again. By meeting with him again, she is trying to actually work through her past with him. When Yumi tells him he is a child molester and sees him become uncomfortable. “I realized I didn’t care. I just wanted to ride his discomfort, hard, until it caught up with mine.” (Ozeki, 214). She needs him to realize the pain he has caused her. She doesn’t want his apology, just for him to know on some level how much pain he caused her.

Another issue she begins to work on upon returning to her home is her relationship with her father. As stated before, his shame and lack of love was one of the reasons she left in the first place. By returning to the home where she lost his love, seeing him sick and dying, she still feels the pain of years without communication. Although she had in a way accepted his lack of contact, she still feels extremely hurt. The pain of her father’s disapproval comes to light  when her father and Geek are talking about a type of seed that destroys its own embryo.  This brings to the surface the conflict between Yumi and her father from years ago. She says, “That’s the kind of pro-life bullshit that drove me out of here in the first place.” (Ozeki, 267). Her father becomes outraged, saying “A life is a life!...It’s God’s gift, how can you be so careless?” (Ozeki, 267). All these years of not talking, of pain and estrangement are resurfacing. These differences that drove them both apart are as strong as ever. Yumi still struggles to understand and reconcile her relationship with her father. She’s attempts to understand what would cause her father to completely give up on her. She asks her mother why he never wrote to her, why he ignored her all those years. Her mother says, “He never saw letters...He is too scared of her. He is too much coward...His heart attack make him like that, cut him down like a big tree...First she run away from him, then his heart go against him, too. After that he is always scared. Doc say when the man cannot trust his heart no more, maybe he gonna go a little crazy too.” (Ozeki, 333). This is important for Yumi to hear because she is able to understand that her father wasn’t ignoring her out of hatred or disappointment, but rather out of fear. This also highlights the sense of guilt she has felt for leaving her family.

Yumi’s return to her home was an act of reconciliation. Although leaving allowed her to grow in a non poisonous environment, it was necessary for her to return. In returning, she was able to properly seek out answers to questions. She was able to gain new perspective on her past and her present. She could see how she had been hurt and she had hurt others. By returning she was able to grow up in a way she had been unable to.


Anne Dalke's picture

your draft is quite “shaped” already—surprisingly tight for a first draft, with no questions or loose ends untied--and it also begins with a quick judgment, calling Yumi’s sexual relationship with Elliott “rape.” What’s the definition of a rapist, and how does it differ from what Yumi calls Elliott later (which you quote): “a child molester”? In reducing the novel to a conventional story of abuse and healing, you use a number of other words that might bear “excavation”: there’s “evacuation,” “suffocation,” “trauma,” “shame,” “poison”—even “healing.” And you make a number of claims that seem to need supporting; how “stable” is Yumi’s life away (three children, three fathers…and a position as an adjunct teacher? a position she compares to migrant labor?) If her home in Idaho is “no longer poisonous,” why does she leave again?

In asking you to do some etymological work, and re-think some of these claims, I’m nudging you to set aside that judgment, that sense that you’ve been able to pin down the story, in order to slow down and attend more carefully to some of the complexities and nuances here. The summary you give of the novel doesn’t allow for the sort of “latitude” that Karen Tei Yamashita (another eco-novelist whom I quote in class on Thursday) says is shared by fiction writers:  “you don't have to follow any narrow line of thought. You don't have to prove something that is already often obvious. The presentation in fiction is very free, and you can play with or examine different ideas that you might not be able to if you have to focus or narrow your investigation."

So: how and where do you see Ozeki (or Yumi) playing? What surprised you in reading this novel? What doesn’t fit into the conventional narrative of abuse and healing? Where are the “cracks” in the neat arc you’ve traced? (What is Lloyd afraid of? How does Ozeki negotiate the gap between his pro-life and his daughter’s pro-choice views….?) I’d like to see you tease out some of those…

aclark1's picture


I enjoyed reading your paper. I was expecting an outline. But, this is nice. Aside from that aspect, this is a very clean. There isn’t much room to argue with. In some sense, that is good. But, at times, I would’ve liked it if your claim was a bit more complexed. After reading, I gathered that your claim had to do with abandonment and control. However, power of control wasn’t specifically addressed within the reading. So, that would’ve made your claim a bit more complex and developed more interest because it would’ve entailed a bit more conversation. While reading, it seemed as if you use the same transitions with different quotes to support the same thing. Which is good, but I would’ve liked to see something a bit more risqué. I loved it though, Rose. All in all. I just wanted to provide more themes to your claim as advise for your final paper. Good job. Happy writing!