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A Changed Yumi? (paper 8)

Sydney's picture

Both children and plants have needs in order to live healthy lives. These needs can be fulfilled by one person, such as father and farmer Lloyd Fuller. His notoriety for raising near perfect potato plants was matched with his notoriety for raising a daughter who repeatedly broke the social norms of their town. Lloyd seemed like a capable man who knew who to create the necessary environment for his prized potato plants; however, his notion to follow a formula, that raising a daughter is as simple as raising a plant, created a rift in his relationship with his own Yumi Fuller. Lloyd neglected to provide for Yumi’s emotional needs, and this troubling childhood environment provided Yumi with a foundation that as too weak, causing her to uproot herself from her town. Yumi could sense the toxins that were being implemented in every child, similar to those given to the genetically identical potatoes, and she feared that she was destined to become just like the other kids in Liberty Falls. After escaping from this environment, she returned to her family and friends who recognized the same Yumi--irresponsible and rash. They wonder if she changed at all, or if once uprooted, she was incapable developing new characteristics.

Compared to children, plants are easy to care for. Numerous common plants require proper sunlight, nutritious soil, and plenty of water. However, the sustenance that children crave involves more time and attention. Like a young Yumi, children need to feel confident in the abilities of their parents; they desire comfort and trust. When the Seeds were preparing for the festival at the Fuller’s farm, the atmosphere reminded Yumi of a time when she felt that she was not provided with complete comfort in her small family. She described the atmosphere as feeling “like Christmas Eve in the house, the way the holiday ought to feel but never had in our small, quiet family when I was growing up. I’d always wanted to belong to a big, happy family that felt like this” (Ozeki 284).This passage reveals that Yumi felt a void in her life as a child. She takes advantage of the environment now, though, and asks if she can help, and Lloyd accepts her offer. Yumi explained the exchange, claiming that, “when our eyes met, he seemed as startled as I was...I was aware that my heart still thumped like a bunny with the pleasure of pleasing Daddy” (Ozeki 284). To me, this description of her feelings toward her father shows that she never could erase him from her life. He scorned her, despised her choices, disapproved of her life style. He never wrote her back, yet somehow, she could not ignore the way that he had brought security and pleasure to her as a child. The years of no communication could not completely destroy Yumi’s and Lloyd’s relationship. It somehow paused its growth, only able to continue once Yumi arrived home and attempted to bond with him.  

When she returned to her home, Yumi was aware of the poisonous gas in the air that she desperately escaped. She lies on the bed from her childhood bedroom, listening to her children calmly breathe as they sleep. The glow of the stars that Lloyd placed on her ceiling decades ago hurls her into a different time, as she contemplates her relationship with her father. She notes that she remembers feeling “a deep celestial bliss, a sense of galactic stability, which pretty well lasted until my nebula spun out of his control and a dark star crossed my firmament, eclipsing him entirely” (Ozeki 69). She describes the destruction of their relationship as Lloyd losing control of her. She foresaw his grasp as an undesirable force, clutching her to bind her to an existence that was predestined, to an existence that she did not want. By eclipsing her father, Yumi stripped him of a power. Without this strength of his, he could no longer manage her development. Unlike his other livelihood, his potato plants, Lloyd failed to retain a steady grip. Both Yumi and the plants lived unpredictable lives, yet Yumi somehow managed to escape the grasp of the experienced farmer.

What is also interesting about this quote is that Yumi felt a calm before her relationship with her father was damaged. She must have not known that the consequences of shrinking away from the resources of her father would cause her a struggle. Rape, a forced abortion, and drug addiction were hurdles in Yumi’s life after she dumped her father. If one of Lloyd's potato plants would have attempted to fend for itself, it would have met competition and obstacles that could have crippled its growth. Yumi grew into a fully capable woman, though. She graduated from college and became a professor. She had children. What caused Yumi to be able to slip from her “galactic stability” and grow into a woman who although seen as irresponsible by many characters of the book? Perhaps it was her desire to remain in touch with her parents although she escaped from them to give her the strength to continue to grow. Unlike uprooted plants, we need further sustenance from our original providers. Yumi’s survival proves impressive.

Although plants do have needs like people do, they do not have desires. Once uprooted, the plant does not dream of how it was once connected to a man who maintained its environment. It does not care about the person who dedicated his life to raising the plant. This is where people differ. Yumi Fuller escaped from her town out of desperation and fear. She feared to ingest the poison that she knew would consume her if she didn’t consume it first. However, Yumi couldn't forget her past. By writing to her parents, she expressed a desire to maintain a connection somehow. We are programmed to remember the ways that we grew up, how the people who interacted with us influenced our lifestyles and beliefs, whether they scorned us or pleased us, we cannot forget who we were because it made us who we are. I think that because we rely so heavily on our backgrounds, that we do not really ever change as adults. We often think that we are changing our identities because we find new friends, move to a new place, or work at a different job; however, I think that our personalities are tragically static. By the end of the book, the claim that “farming requires a kind of stability that is incompatible with revolution” (Ozeki 407) is made. I think that this partially makes us more similar to plants than we want to believe. Sure, Yumi developed into a strong woman with children and a job. She threw everything away in her life in order to change, yet it is unnerving to believe that she was never in a true state of balance because stability and change cannot go hand in hand. People can never undergo a full change; rather, we are stuck in an in between state, trying to efface a part of ourselves that we longer want, as Yumi no longer wanted to be an embarrassment to her father.





Anne Dalke's picture

[I love this line!]

I’m really liking the way you work the connection between plants and people here, thinking through the ways in which both sorts of organisms are “programmed” to become what they become—and the degree to which such “programming” might be interrupted or re-wired. I’m looking forward to our talking more about the claims of your final paragraph, that our personalities are “tragically static,” and that we are unable to “efface those parts of ourselves we no longer want.” How universal is Yumi’s experience? Are there other characters in the novel, whose lives and worldviews shift more dramatically than Yumi’s does? Your title suggests that your essay applies only to her, though your final paragraph makes much larger claims…