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Type Casting in All Over Creation

Tralfamadorian's picture



“Everyone knew that the side dishes were typecast. The carrot was a tall redhead named Rusty. The Green Beans were a pair of skinny twins. The cherry Tomato went to a rosy second grader with shiny cheeks. The corn was a tawny kid named Kellogg. Face it. What is a potato? A potato is a fat, round, dumpy white thing, wrapped in burlap, rolling around on a dirty stage. Some kids never had to be vegetables at all. Some kids got to be human beings-Pilgrims or Indians- and eat the rest of the kids for dinner.”

            In Ruth Ozeki’s novel, All Over Creation, Cass makes an extremely interesting observation about the way that the Thanksgiving Plays works. This play is a microcosm of what life is like in the real world for Cass and other characters in this book. Many characters are typecasted and judged based on their own appearances, just like the children are cast in the school play based on their looks.  This discrimination is only amplified by the fact that they live in the extremely rural town of Liberty Falls, Idaho. Where crops grow fast and gossip can grow even faster.

            When thinking on small farming towns, one thinks vast expansions of crops, quaint houses, and typically a very monocultural population. The fuller family is anything but a monocultural family. Lloyd is a white American, Momoko is Japanese, Yumi is a Japanese American and her children, Phoenix, Ocean, and Poo are all of mixed heritages. Because the fuller family is of mixed cultures people in the town can often be ignorant to the family. It can often be slight, for example, when Momoko finds she has a natural gift of taking care of crops. Her neighbor says, “She may be yeller but her thumb sure is green.” Though this may have been meant as a compliment it can be taken very negatively. Another example of this slippage that no one in the town seems to notice themselves is how everyone pronounces Yumi’s name Yummy.

            When the Seeds of Resistance come into town to visit Lloyd and Momoko and soak up their infinite wisdom another side of the town’s intolerance shows up. The Seeds of Resistance practice peaceful protests in the name of the environment. These peaceful protests seem to incite some backlash from the Liberty Falls Police who think that they are disturbing the peace, they even call them “dirty commie hippies”. Later on in the novel the Seeds of Resistance begin to get hate mail for their website that harnesses a very loving and intimate relationship with nature and the environment. Because of its risqué theme the Seeds of Resistance are threatened and called hateful names even though they were just trying to establish a means for connecting the world to nature and getting a little extra cash on the side. The town’s reaction to the Seeds of Resistance seems a little outdated, but to avoid confrontation the Seeds leave for a while leaving Yumi in the dust.

            An even deeper cut of this racism and discrimination is when Phoenix is arrested for carrying a knife to school. Phoenix carries this knife because he is scared his life, Because Billy O’dell’s son threatened him by shoving a gun in his mouth and threatens him saying he’ll blow his brains out. The only apparent reason that Phoenix is getting picked on is because he does not look like everyone else. He is darker than the other students in his school and this translates to the kids as different and therefore, wrong. This is exemplified when he tells Yumi that the kids like Ocean pretty well and includes the fact that she is blonde. He is implying that her fair hair sets her apart from Phoenix and establishes her with everyone else in school.  Though he carries the name for his and his sister’s safety he is still arrested and seen as the threat. This is because the small town of Liberty Falls is filled with institutionalized racism.  

            Everyone in Liberty Falls who does not fit the cookie cutter shape of Idaho is a type cast side dish. They are your potatoes, your carrots, your green beans and your cherry tomatoes. They get eaten by the human beings, the people who think that they are more important than those who are different. This typecasting in All Over Creation is omnipresent in the entire novel. Momoko, Yumi, and her children are typecast by their skin color while the seeds of resistance are typecast by their lifestyle. Just like Cass is typecast by her body shape and the other side dishes are typecast by the way they look. The climate of the environment in All Over Creation is shaped by the human beings that eat the typecast people. Like plants, this monoculture environment should not exist and should not be tolerated, because it is bad for the soil and eventually kills off all diversity. 




jccohen's picture


I notice you use the word ‘slippage’ fairly early in this essay, and it seems quote useful for what you’re saying here – I’d suggest you cite it and use it more fully in exploring your ideas.

Your commentary on Phoenix is interesting…  You’re casting him as a victim of racism, which of course I see, and/but he’s also a sharp guy, with an insightful social/political critique and an attitude, and we might say some of the same about Yumi.  The question I’m raising is:  does Ozeki treat Phoenix (and others who don’t fit the monoculture of Liberty Falls) as having more agency, and if so, what does this suggest about the identity-environment relationship that you’re examining here?

Finally, the type casting you describe in your last paragraph is more complicated, I think.  Cass was type cast as the potato and is part of the monoculture, whereas Yumi was different and was not a side-dish…  So while your analysis of monoculture and diversity in the novel seems to me right on key, and as your last sentence suggest, agriculture and nature more broadly in this novel demonstrates why monoculture is harmful, I don’t think this works seamlessly with your argument about the typecasting…  


So I’d say you have a number of great insights and examples here, and now the challenge is to reconsider how they’re coming together in your overall claim!



artsresistance's picture

Thoughts about whether it is possible to create a society in which no one is 'the other'. How would such a society be structured?