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Listen When the Wisest One Speaks Up

bothsidesnow's picture

In my rough draft of this essay, I picked out some quotes from Momoko in All Over Creation. My biggest question about Momoko was why she is a secondary character who is not granted any narration, while her husband, daughter, and other more vocal characters were. I used that question to ask more specific ones in the context of the quotes I found, which led me to realize that Momoko has some wisdom for the others, relayed in the terms of plants and flowers. From there, I saw just how important Momoko is to those around her, even if they might not realize it. Link to draft: /oneworld/changing-our-story-2015/momoko-quiet-force

           In All Over Creation by Ruth Ozeki, the fight against genetically engineered food becomes intertwined with a multigenerational family’s struggle to repair the cracks in their relationships. Ozeki rotates through a small group of the characters, revealing their unshared thoughts about family, relationships, and the environment. While the relationship between Yumi and her father Lloyd becomes a central thread throughout, Yumi’s mother, Momoko, rarely enters the heated confrontations. She is a clematis in a garden of peonies that steal the sunlight. Momoko’s quiet yet forceful existence forces her family and the others around her to question their values and their selfish attitudes concerning their relationships and environmental intervention that they advocate so strongly.

            The tumultuous connection that Lloyd and Yumi share excludes Momoko, relegating her to the role of a more detached parent, one who relies on her spouse to handle the problems with their child. Fully aware of this, she calls them “’Two peas in a pod.’…then she’d give a little nod that made it for sure” (Ozeki 19).  This first metaphoric phrase shows that Momoko expresses herself in the language she knows best: the language of flora. She comments again on Yumi’s relationship with her parents by describing her as a squash with the potential for pollination, stating “‘her flower is start to open see? But is too soon. She must wait.’ Deftly she sealed the petal’s tips shut. ‘Bee so quick, maybe he get inside with some other squash’s pollen, then baby is no good. You gotta shut her up tight until the right time’” (115). Momoko’s work to keep her exotic seeds from mixing together is all consuming and can be ruined by one mistake of cross-contamination of seeds, just like Yumi’s casual relationships, specifically her first one with Elliot.  Knowing she is experiencing her sexual awakening, Momoko does not think Yumi is mature enough to handle the possible consequence of pregnancy. Unlike Lloyd’s authoritative nature expressed through emotional outbursts, this is Momoko’s way of parenting, of showing her disapproval.

            In one of the only moments between just Momoko and her daughter, she comments on how Yumi has not matured since running away twenty-five years ago. With her health deteriorating, she doesn’t recognize simple objects, such as chairs and lamps and even plants and weeds. Yumi corrects her mother “‘Those are plans, Mom. Not weeds. You don’t want to be pulling those up.’ She looked up, and her eyes were wide and confused as she searched my face,” (333).  Momoko decides to label the items in her house, recognizing the furniture and décor like a child might, and her social behavior changes into that of very young person.  As Momoko cannot think clearly due to her regression, the opposite must occur with Yumi. Yumi cannot try to be the person she was at fourteen, when she ran away; she must leave the past behind.

             Momoko’s notion of letting past behaviors and attitudes behind transcends beyond Yumi’s personal difficulties.  After hearing Geek’s plan to give away her seeds, Momoko consents, urging, “keeping them is not safe. Keeping is danger. Only safe way is letting go. Giving everything away. Freely. Freely’”(358). This statement from Yumi suggests that Cyanco and Lloyd are trying to guard their seeds, with their Terminators and pure, unmixed seeds, respectively.  Their businesses are essentially for profit. “Letting go,” suggests that perhaps each is too stubborn with their ideas and is not willingly view the farming and food industry with different perspectives, and possibly compromises.

             “Giving everything away” applies to not just the plants but the humans too. It asks whether the Fullers, the Seeds of the Resistance and Cyanco give back to the earth in return for what they take. However from what Momoko is telling them, they are too concerned with their individual goals to work together.  “Letting go” also suggests that they could take risks, rather than stubbornly sticking to their ideals. Taking risks could help the opposing teams of Lloyd and the Seeds of Resistance versus Cyanco better understand each other.

               These characters that Ozeki chose for narrating are shown as selfish and jealous. Cass wants children like Yumi has, while Yumi seems to be more preoccupied with herself and her physical relationships instead of her kids. Lloyd is obstinate in protecting his potatoes, and Frank becomes swept up in the protest, not even attending the birth of his daughter. Momoko lacks the fiery passion that the others exhibit. However, her actions and few words speak louder than the hasty and blunt exchanges between the humans around her. As Yumi, Lloyd and company’s stubbornness hinders their progress, Momoko’s tenacity of her own simple values serves her well, especially when she is forced to uproot herself from her home.

                 Relocating to Hawaii with Yumi and her children, Momoko listens to her own words of living a flexible and non-materialistic life. She chooses to leave behind all of her gardening equipment and seeds, believing simply that “everywhere is garden. It is enough” (414). Bringing a minimal amount of physical baggage, this statement follows her earlier statement of giving away freely. Momoko will not be bogged down by her past. As her health deteriorates even more, perhaps if she will have nothing left with her when she dies, having given all of herself to the others in exchange for what she had taken from the earth.

Ozeki, Ruth. All Over Creation. New York: Penguin Group, 2004. Print. 


Anne Dalke's picture


As I said in my response to your first draft, I really like your attending to Momoko, bringing her quiet wisdom to the forefront of a novel that is really dominated by her more obstreperous family members and acquaintances. In this draft, I'm also appreciating your noticing that "Momoko expresses herself in the language she knows best: the language of flora," and that, on moving to Hawaii, she recognizes that “everywhere is garden. It is enough.” Also key to this character study is your highlighting her one moment of deep wisdom, that keeping "is not safe. Keeping is danger. Only safe way is letting go. Giving everything away. Freely. Freely.’”

I think you overstate the unremitting deterioration of her health, though. Yes, she is often confused, but there are also moments of clarity. She plays the labeling game against her grandson, for instance, and also has a number of insights into Yumi's behavior, as well as that of her husband.

What I think is also missing in this carefully supported argument (which is much more organized and shaped than your earlier papers--a real pleasure to read -- thanks!), is a more abstract claim. I'd suggested thinking about your methodology as an 'environmental' one, because it upends the conventional generic distinctions between major and minor characters (not to mention between characters and setting). By attending to Momoko, it seemed to me, you are shifting the center of values in the novel

--but you didn't take up that idea.

So: what can you offer instead? I'll be curious to hear, as we make our move from the human-centric to a longer, broader environmental view....