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Interaction Between Identity and Environment

ZhaoyrCecilia's picture

One’s identity can be molded by the environment without doubt. In Ruth Ozeki’s book “All Over Creation”, it is clear to see the identity and environment related to each other. The environment is divided into social environment and physical environment, which both help shaping people’s identity. What I found interested in this book is that under the writing of the author, the characters and the environment are interacted. The identity of people in the book are affected by the social environment while the “environment” receive people’s care or influenced by them at the same time.

When reading the book, I found the social environment standing out at first. The main character, Yummy’s identity was shaped by the social environment—her Japanese mother and her stubborn father. Her physical identity which is looks differently from the normal whites is shaped by her Japanese mother, and her characteristic was influenced by her father somehow. Her father was stubborn that he let her daughter run away and did not try to find her or contact with her. When someone asking about her daughter he answered without hesitant: “I have no daughter” (29). This straightforward characteristic definitely appeared on Yummy that she ran away from home and did not come back in twenty years and in the letters she wrote back to her parents, she said ruthlessly: “I hate you” (40). This identity is reflected on Yummy’s son Phoenix too. “The look in my son’s eye was cool and bitter. ‘That’s what you say about all of our fathers.’ He gave the dirt one last vicious kick” (232), which clearly shows the straightforward of Phoenix. This is how Yummy’s social environment—her father, influenced her identity and her identity continually affected her son.

For another example, Cassie, Yummy’s friend, was influenced by the social environment which is Yummy’s son, Poo. “When she had him along, the world looked different, and she liked the way she saw things she'd never seen before […] But she noticed other things, too -- the way she herself felt acutely visible with the baby in her arms, and the way some people's faces lit up when they saw a child. His warm weight was like living ballast, thrumming with energy, giving her substance. Folks were drawn to that” (130). Cassie found her identity started to change while she was holding a baby, especially a different race baby from herself. She feels the attention from others and feels the warmth brought by the child. At the same time, the child, as a social environment to Cassie, was looked after by Cassie and Cassie was taking care of him. This is a kind of reciprocal relationship between identity and environment.

When it comes to the relationship between people’s identity and nature environment, a sentence in the book caught my eyes:

“And all the other plants, too. Each one is a complex software program, and so are we. And the really wild part is, we're all interactive! We can all learn […] The pea trains the farmer, and the farmer trains the pea. The pea has learned to taste sweet, so that the farmer will plant more of it. Vegetables are like a genetic map, unfolding through time, tracing the paths that human appetites and desires have taken throughout our evolution." (124)

 This is an exact description of the relationship between people and nature. People in the country were planting the potatoes or produce other foods and they would face some problems such as pests and disease. That is how the plants “train” the farmers. When the farmers are using pesticides and other medicine to cut off the disease or try to produce more, they are “training” the plants. However, then, people found out the danger of using those medicine, and this is how plants “train” people again. The Seeds of Resistance are the people who wanted to persuade farmers to change methods of “training” the plants. Thus, we can see the identity of people—including farmers and activists, are shaped or influenced by the nature.

Furthermore, an important character in this book, Momoko is a representative of the relationship between the nature environment and the identity. Momoko is from Japan, so she brought a lot of exotic seeds with her. She grew those seeds and spread them to other farmers, which is her identity influencing the nature environment. The plants were raison well because of her. At the same time, Momoko was also influenced by those plants. She felt extremely sad when she forgot the names of the seeds; even it seems like forgetting the names of seeds is more serious than forgetting her daughter’s name. Her identity is shaped by the seeds because she sees the seeds as her children and her mood are affected by the plants. I think she was always trying to use the seeds as a reminder of her Japanese identity.

It is interesting to see how the identity and environment interact each other in this book by Ruth Ozeki. The relationship between identity and environment is complicated much more than we can imagine.




jccohen's picture


Intro paragraph needs to be clearer – I see the various pieces you’re working with here but can’t quite decipher what you’re saying about them.  More on this at the end of this note…

 Your social environment examples are strong.  I’d suggest that you say something about how you’re defining or using ‘social environment’ here, which seems to be focused on the immediate influence of people who are close in some way – genetically and/or physically – right? 

 On identity and natural environment, great quote!  Give us the speaker and some context for this quote.  Also, help the reader with a transition between the two parts of the essay – ‘social’ and ‘natural’ environments; what kind of connection should we be making here?

 Do you think what you say about Momoko might be the way you can link the ‘social’ and ‘natural’ environments in relation to identity in this paper?  It seems to me that Momoko may be the key to your claim, which should help the reader connect the intersection of identity and the ‘social’ and ‘natural’ environments in the novel…