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The Unknown's picture

The seed represents the beginning, survival, resistance, and a culture of farming. In Ruth Ozeki’s novel, All Over Creation, Ozeki redefines the meaning of seeds. Seeds are present in nearly every pivotal moment in the book and are used to show the characters’ willpower, hard work, skill, and concern for seeds. The seeds are a symbol of the characters’ strength, persistence, loss and will to survive. Though seeds evolve into plants-something new, they are compared to a cast of characters whose beliefs and personalities remain mostly static.

Yumi’s mother, Momoko represents one of the main themes in the story: the benefit of working with nature rather than manipulating, abusing, or destroying it. Momoko cultivates seeds from exotic flowers and vegetables. Geek, the leader of the Seeds of Resistance, a group that protests genetically modified foods learn about Yumi’s diverse and natural way of gardening and growing plants. The Seeds go to Liberty Falls, Momoko’s hometown to learn about her harvesting techniques and become inspired and enthralled in her seeds:

So what you are sitting on here at Fullers’ Seeds is a library containing the genetic information of hundreds, maybe thousands of seeds-rare fruits and flowers and vegetables, heritage breeds many of them, and lots of exotics. These seeds embody the fruitful collaboration between nature and humankind, the history of our race and our migrations. Talk about narrative! (162).

Geek sees the historical value of seeds. Momoko’s successes demonstrate the benefit of working with nature rather than abusing or taking advantage of it. Through her alternative techniques, not using pesticides or hormones, Momoko represents an opposition to the mainstream way of growing vegetables. Instead of destroying the land and people, which many pesticides prove to do throughout the novel, Momoko creates new life- plant species- and is therefore an inspiration to Geek. The principles of Momoko’s gardening directly connect with Geek’s mission to transform the United States’ agricultural system into a natural, healthy, sustainable industry. Momoko represents resistance in the way she cultivates her seeds. She is the change he wants to spread. Momoko represents the first seed, step.

Momoko becomes attached to her seeds. She spends most of her time with them, even talking to them. The seeds are the product of her life’s work. Yumi’s father describes how Momoko’s seeds are connected to her identity: “Those are only flowers now, but they gonna be seeds.’ She stretched her arms to accommodate the whole garden. ‘Everyone gonna be seeds” (332).  Momoko’s life becomes intertwined with the life of her seeds. Momoko has Alzheimer’s disease and as the story progresses, she begins to forget who her family is, where certain objects belong in the house, and how to cook, but her knowledge and green thumb stays with her. Momoko speaks to her seeds and nurtures them. They are her most prized possession. In the novel, seeds carry histories and remind characters of who they are and who they once were.

Even in Momoko’s weakened state, the seeds are a reminder of her strength and fortitude. She begins to forget the names of some of her plants but coninues to wander around her green house trying to recall them. Momoko’s desire to give and spread her gift with others is portrayed in the attention she gives to her plants and her willingness to take on and learn about new plant species. She takes a lot of pride in the cultivation and cross-pollination of her flowers.

The presence of seeds is evident in many of the most important sections of the book. Ruth Ozeki uses seeds to describe the scene when Yumi returns home and sees her father for the first time in the hospital: “The air around her filled with a cloud of black seeds. He could feel them, raining down on top of him, like a tickling wind. He watched them bouncing crazily off the tabletops and skittering across the floor” (71). Momoko flings seeds around Lloyd’s hospital room when Lloyd first sees Yumi after she ran away. Momoko is enraged with Lloyd’s stubbornness and refusal to acknowledge his daughter’s arrival.

The seeds represent a loss of control and anger. The seeds separate Lloyd and Yumi physically, in the hospital, and in-terms of their concern for the seeds. Momoko’s response is a reaction to Lloyd’s static character and refusal to accept or forgive his daughter for what she did as a teenager. Momoko tries to breakdown the barriers of knowledge, time, and experience between Yumi and her parents, but she struggles in vain. The use of these seeds brings out Momoko’s concern for family and willingness to forgive and move on. Momoko is one of the most warm and calm characters in the novel, and therefore her outrage is even more meaningful. Though the seeds represent Momoko’s hope for her family to connect and her garden to prosper, in the end the seeds are just a beginning and in the end, no on is able to care of either.

The section where Elliot returns to Liberty Falls is entitled “bad seed,” and after Cass’ father, Carl, and Yumi’s father, Lloyd find out that Yumi had an abortion, Carl tells Lloyd that his daughter is a bad seed. The term seed is used to describe people’s personalities and where they are from. These are all examples of painful moments in the novel that separated and divided many of the characters. The seeds are present in moments when there is a lack of understanding and connection. At the end of the novel the seeds prove to be a more literal disconnection when Lloyd and Momoko desperately search for someone to continue their family business and their only daughter is unwilling, nor has the knowledge or skill to take over the trade.

When Yumi returns to Liberty Falls so her parents can meet her children, she has no appreciation for her father’s farming or her mother’s gardening. Ruth Ozeki shows how Lloyd has to beg Yumi to help out their family business: ““For your mother. If I can’t take care of her, they’ll put her away. She won’t have her garden. Her seeds. They’re all she remembers, Yumi.” (104) Yumi demonstrates an obvious lack of interest in her parents’ work. She does not appreciate the importance or uniqueness of their farming. In this passage, the seeds represent a lost hope. Though many characters have a lot of promise throughout the novel, none of them seem to be truly happy and satisfied in their lives.  

Yumi looks and feels out of place because she does not connect with the land because of her memories of guilt, shame, and pain that are saturated in it. Though she tries to separate herself from where she began, the seed- who she was and where she began- was implanted in her long ago and continues to define her. Her “home” is a seed to a past she had tried to erase, forget, and discard. Returning to her family did not turn out to be a renewal or growth from the past, but rather a deeper entrenchment into it and regression. She tried to run away from a place that never left her.

Seeds ground people and connect characters to their land throughout the story. People’s stories are tied to the land:

Standing in my mother’s greenhouse that night, surrounded by mounds of wormy seeds and chaff, I felt the brittle coat around my heart crack open at the hopeless beauty and fragility and loss of all that is precious on earth. He was right, we are responsible. Intimately connected, we’re liable for it all (410).

Momoko and Lloyd remember events in relation to how well their business were doing or the prices of potatoes at a given time. Lloyd and Momoko’s identities are tied to the land. Growing potatoes is Lloyd and Momoko’s pride and joy. It is part of their culture and connection to their neighbors and friends.

I plan to discuss this quote more.

Notes: I realize I do not have a conclusion and that though I discuss the importance of seeds throughout the novel, I do not make a particularly strong argument. Also, I realize this piece is not about environment as a whole, but more about how seeds are used in different parts of the novel. What do you think?



Leigh Alexander's picture

When I first began your essay I figured that the argument was that the juxtaposition of seeds changing to the characters of Ozeki's novel emphasizes the stagnency of Ozeki's characters, but I do agree with your note that your essay digressed from this idea as it went on (which I at least think is good in a draft-- it gets all of your ideas out on paper). 

I found your claim of Momoko being resistant to her changes (trying to remember all the plant names, insisting on making dinner, etc) very interesting and very true. It just contrsts your thesisy claim of non-dynamic characters.

I also really liked the idea of seeds carrying history and reminding "characters of who they are and who they once were." Here again this contradicts what I thought was your thesis a bit because if people aren't changing you wouldn't need to reference to someone "who they once were" ya know? But I might have read your first paragraph strangely too, and of course, it's still a great draft.

The last thing that really struck me was the idea of people's stories being tied to the land. it's so poetic. I like it very much. I think you should roll with it.


You've got some great ideas here, great textual summaries especially :)