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Alexandra's picture


     Ruth Ozeki, the author of All Over Creation spoke in an interview discussing that "Nothing exists independently of anything else. Novels, stories, are always about relationship, so they are a beautiful way to investigate and to talk about this quality of interbeing, the way we inter-are" (Meeks). In her novel, this idea of relationship between environment and individuals is at the core. Ozeki claims that identities are constructed through shared experiences of environment.   

     The novel is set iIdaho where Yumi, the protagonist, blossoms through childhood in a small, racially singular townYumi, a child of mixed races struggles for many years to find her identity. “That’s what it felt like when I was growing up, like I was a random fruit in a field of genetically identical potatoes” (20). In this racially unparalleled town, she searches for connection with incongruous human beings. When Yumi is introduced to Elliothe seems radical, thus a superficial attraction stems between Yumi and Elliot. “The power of his knowledge made you weak in the knees. That fall, he taught you all about the great civilizations of the world. He pressed you to question your beliefs, to think about real ideas. He considered Japan to be spiritual and deep, and he taught you a koan: What is the sound of one hand clapping? You carried it home in your heart and whispered it to yourself every day, stunned at its poetic profundity" (50). As the scandal of sexual relations unfolds, Yumi decides she will leave her home behind her, though her loss of identity is ultimately what causes her to leave.  

     Away from Idaho, Yumi matures and becomes successful by earning a graduate's degree and creating a family of her own. Yet when Yumi returns to her town for the first time in over 20 years, she again feels overwhelmed by the identical people in the town. “The close warmth of the car was suffocating. No air. Nowhere to go. No choice but to talk without too much thinking" (121). Ultimately, Yumi abandons her home because she is unique in her environment. Had Elliot been a harmonious adult, he and Yumi would not have had sexual relationship. And if Yumi felt a sense of belonging in her home, she would not have run away.  

     Similar to Yumi, Momoko is a very resilient character who endures life in a foreign country with foreign peopleMomoko was different. “People used to smile, call them Mutt and Jeff... you can imagine the two of them, standing in the fields, side by side, Lloyd as tall as a runner bean stalk and Momoko barely coming up to his buckle. Dressed in jeans turned up at the cuff and hanging from her shoulders by suspenders, she looked like Lloyd’s son instead of his wife" (22). Momoko has always shared a love with Lloyd for agriculture and cultivating. “He watched Momoko cultivate her garden, he realized that for her, seeds were the sole objective. She tended her plants, allowing them to ripen, to flower and die—and only then did she get down to business… Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night. . . . She was more reliable than the birds and the bees, and with a far greater reach" (201-202). However her fondness for gardening becomes an obsession when Yumi leaves Idaho. Momoko attaches so dearly to her plants because part of her identity leaves with her daughter. “She got very upset when she forgot. One day she sat down on the floor of the storage room and started banging her head with a muddy fist. “What is name? What is name?” Over and over. It was just some damn pea, but she couldn’t remember, and she just sat there in all that dirt, smacking herself until I grabbed her wrists and held them" (298). If Momoko had not been the only Japanese woman where she lived, it would be more likely that she would connect with other people. Momoko would have felt more comfortable and integrated herself into her community. Because of this lack of shared experience in the environment, Momoko ostracizes herself.  

     In contrast to Yumi and Momoko, Frankie shares experiences with the Sputnik group with whom he becomes closely attached. Before Frankie met the Seeds of Resistance, he was a self sufficient character who embodied his own freedom. “At four-thirty in the morning, riding his skateboard under the hazy orange glow of the road lights, Frank had the whole place to himself, and the wind was freedom" (92). Moreover, the lifestyle in which Frankie grew up forced him to be independent. As a result, Frankie lived dissimilar to typical adolescents. “Frank was a suburban kid, and a foster kid to boot. He knew that the world sucked. He listened to hardcore. He’d grown up in malls. He worked as a janitor at McDonald’s and would have dropped out of school except he couldn’t think of anything more interesting to do" (107). Yet when Frankie met the Sputnik group, he became captivated with everything they embodiedThe Seeds of Resistance represented independence from social norms, a very familiar lifestyle to Frankie. He’d never wanted anything more in his life. He didn’t get half of what they were doing, but they were cool about it" (177). This lifestyle of wandering with no predetermined agenda is what attracted Frankie to the Seeds of Resistance. He could identify with their independence and lack of stability, making him feel so welcome. With Sputnik, Frankie is still able to maintain his self sufficient and unique lifestyle, however now he has company.   

     Identities are constructed through shared experiences of environment. Yumi, Momoko, and Frankie develop into their characters because of the influence the environment possesses. These characters Ozeki writes about support her claim that "nothing exists independently of anything else" (Meeks).  


Works Cited 

"Interview With an Independent Writer: Ruth Ozeki." Interview by Catherine Meeks. Asle. Spring 2013 Edition of ASLE News, Spring 2013. Web. 30 Oct. 2015. 

Ozeki, Ruth. All Over Creation. New York, New York: Penguin, 2004. IBooks. Penguin Books, 2004. Web. 30 Oct. 2015.v


jccohen's picture


Your intro paragraph is provocative and interesting, and made me curious to read the essay!  And/but in both that intro and then in the body of the essay, I’m not quite clear about what you’re saying about the relationship between identity and environment.  I think this may have to do with clarifying your terms…  By “environment,” do you mean everything around a character, from the other characters to the culture of the place and the “natural” or outside environment? 

Your body paragraphs are rich with character description and examples, and again, I think what needs clarifying here is how your claim is evident in each example.   For example, what do you want us to understand about Yumi in terms of how “identities are constructed through shared experiences of environment” – are you showing us what is not shared here?  And how does this get articulated in the last sentence of this paragraph – “As the scandal of sexual relations unfolds, Yumi decides she will leave her home behind her, though her loss of identity is ultimately what causes her to leave” - ?

I think there’s a lot to work with here.  The idea of "inter-being" that you begin and end with seems to me key - we’ll discuss further in our conference tomorrow.