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Rooting Elliot

gmchung's picture

Grace Chung

ESEM Paper #6

October 31, 2014


Rooting Elliot


Ruth Ozeki in All Over Creation introduces to the reader an uncomfortable relationship between the quasi-narrator Yumi and her history professor Elliot Rhodes. Elliot, who is in his early twenties when he starts his sexual molestation of fourteen-year-old Yumi, is brought to Power County, Idaho in order to teach history and avoid the draft to Vietnam. Because of Elliot’s vile act, the class dismissed Elliot as a creep, rapist, and villain. However as the novel continues, Ozeki proves to the reader that there is more to Elliot than a man who molested one of his students. Like the title alludes to the complex debates between pro-life verses pro-choice as well as pro-GMO verses organic, All Over Creation is a book that exposes the complexities of the characters within the story.

Elliot Rhodes is first introduced through Yumi’s account after Yumi is beginning to discover her own sexuality. While Lloyd has been successful in nurturing Yumi as a seedling, he fails her in her next stage of growing: adolescence. Yumi is in need of another person to provide and nurture her and she gives Elliot that role. Elliot takes advantage of Yumi’s naivety and age and portrays an ideal of him, “In fact, he was a conscientious objector, and you knew this because he told you” (21). A conscientious objector is a person who refuses to serve in the military due to their moral beliefs (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). However, Elliot is only in Power County to avoid the draft to Vietnam. Elliot manipulates Yumi into believing him to be a man who knows what he is doing when in reality, he is like a seed that has not had the opportunity to be nurtured and grown properly. Elliot’s history involves a father who “ran out on my mom and [him] when he was just a kid” (224). Elliot’s only example of what a man was showed him that a man ran away to chase after other woman. Elliot takes his father’s departure to heart and while he is teaching Yumi he owns a “bare room in a small house. There was very little materialism in evidence….He slept under a military green sleeping bag with a nubbly flannel lining, printed with hunters and ducks” (25). Elliot makes it easy for himself to leave just like his father by not having anything to root him both physically and emotionally. His room is bare with no photos of art on the walls. He does not own any heavy furniture. Though he is supposedly against the war and killing, he owns a sleeping bag with killers on it. He builds up a wall and does not allow Yumi to help root him when she admits to him that she love him, “That he was not holding at all. In fact, he was merely sitting there, his arms at his sides” (27). Yumi is physically holding on to him, but Elliot does not hold on back. He does not know what to do and that scares him. He does not make any attempt to push Yumi away or bring her closer to him. Instead, he just sits there unsure of what to do. He is subconsciously portraying his ideal self to be modeled after his father.

When the reader finally gets to read Elliot’s narration, Elliot is working under someone doing public relations for an organization that promotes GMOs. Oddly enough, Elliot’s own boss views food as sacred, “Never know where your food is coming from….Food is life” (83). However, Elliot does not share the same beliefs as his boss and will just eat whatever. Elliot is a man who has had misfortunes and is tired. He dreams of being transferred to Tokyo, but instead is transferred back to Power County. When Elliot meets up with Yumi twenty-five years later, Elliot has not appeared to have grown much even through his dress, “Only it wasn’t really a suit, just a tweedy-looking jacket and khaki pants” (194). A suit represents sophistication and some sort of authority. However, Elliot even after all these years and with a highly esteemed job, he is still dressing almost the same way as he dressed when he first met Yumi. When he meets Yumi, he goes back to portraying his conscientious objector ideal self. He lies about his job and hides his true motives from Yumi. He wishes to reminisce the past even though he has moved on from being a history teacher.

It is only until Yumi and Elliot talk by the River does Elliot start to realize that he is tired of playing someone that he is not. Elliot is finally allowing Yumi to plant and root him, “this time he was determined to protect her” (228). Elliot after spending almost his whole life not settling down, wishes to settle down and now wants to protect the very person whose life he personally effected. In the process of wanting to settle down, he gives up his lifelong dream to be transferred to Japan, “I just want to come back here as soon as I can” (229). However, though Elliot is finally able to settle down, Yumi cannot get over the hurt and turmoil that Elliot seems to bring whenever he comes. After being rejected by Yumi, Elliot decides that “with no place to go, he felt like he was going back to the beginning” (398). Elliot was open to being rooted by Yumi, but she is not willing to plant him thus forcing Elliot to revert back to his old unplanted seed ways. He must look to plant himself.



Works Cited

"Conscientious Objector." Merriam-Websters Dictionary. Merriam Webster, Web.

Ozeki, Ruth L. All over Creation. New York: Viking, 2003. Print.



Anne Dalke's picture

What is striking about this essay is your willingness to take the time to try and understand, and explain, Elliott, whom (as you say) we dismissed in class “as a creep, rapist, and villain.” Unpacking his history—including, most notably, his abandonment by his father, and secondarily, his rejection by Yumi--leads you “back to the beginning”…though you leave your reader unsure what-or-where that might be…do you know?