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The Barrier

changing18's picture

Culture, era, structure, class, all matter when dealing with the complexity of a family’s relationship.  I want to understand the importance of Yummy’s letters to her parents in All Over Creation.  Lloyd and Momoko, Yummy’s parents, originate from Japan so their ideals of what a child is supposed to do varies from those of many Americans.  Yummy’s character is more complex in the culture, time, family structure and her family’s economic status she was raised in. Yummy’s letters are important aspects of the book because it allows us to understand more about her character and her relationship between their family and friends. One’s own understanding of the role of a parent and child is an important part in analyzing these complex relationships in the story which may be different than a reader’s own experience.  After discussions from some Asian international students, they claimed that Yummy leaving was a sign of her abandonment.  This challenged my own thoughts as an American myself.  I saw her leaving as a sign of freedom to discover herself without the judgement/shame of her parents thoughts. These letters are an attempt for her to try and reconnect with her parents but the ideals they had, created barriers between their ability to communicate.  Yet what I got out of her letters was an attempt at staying connected to her family despite their ideals being very different. So with a closer examination at these letters, we can find that the letters were an attempt to communicate between the different ideals/barriers of the Japanese and American culture.

First, Llyod and Momoko had at least been raised before the 1930s with strong ties to their Japanese heritage, which comes a whole set of ideology that differs from modern American society today.  So when thinking about Yummy running away, whether seen as a sign of abandonment or freedom, it is crucial to remember that the philosophies from one generation to the next are drastically different.  So in Yummy’s case I think this is why she left in the first place.  The guilt of being misunderstood, forced her to leave her role as a child and grow on her own.  Yet when she reached out to her parents, it was with a sympathy for how they might feel about her leaving.  The first letter gives readers the most insight into her decision to leave.  She mentioned in her very first letter, “You probably still think I’m an evil sinner and I’ll go to hell for all my wrongdoings, and if that causes you grief, I’m sorry… The shame was yours, and I knew if I stayed, I’d be poisoned by it” (37). So she was upset with what she felt she was forced to do, but tried to communicate to gain sympathy and at least acceptance for her decision.  Lloyd and Momoko were accustomed to a certain lifestyle that Yummy did not live by.  This letter tried to speak to the affection she had for her parents but tried to make them understand the confinement she would have been forced into if she had stayed.

When speaking with other colleagues of mine from Eastern Asia, there is a strong sense of family and a fixed set of morals to maintain a family's reputation.  Thus with this in mind, it allowed me to understand a little more about why Yummy’s character was so disliked by many of my Asian classmates.  Once Lloyd and Momoko were in their old age especially without the care of their only child, I think this especially turned away many of my Asian colleagues.  Then she wrote letters only every few years showing a very small amount of communication.  But we also don’t see what her parents communicated back, if anything, except for the one letter she acknowledged receiving a letter from Momoko.  Momoko seemed more interested in keeping in touch with Yummy then Lloyd did.  Lloyd’s role is the most crucial in relation to Yummy.  He was the main reason she left, he had the most conflict with Yummy after the affair, yet he was the one she cared for the most.  In one of the letters she even in a letter to her mother, “I guess you can handle [Lloyd].  I’m the one who couldn’t. Did I always make him so mad?” (38) It shows she cares about how she has impacted her father.  This inability to handle Lloyd is what created this barrier between them because of their lack of compliance with one another.  It still seems clear to me that she cares deeply for her parents but their inability to communicate drove them apart.

Yummy would come to live what many would consider an American life.  According to her letters she goes to Berkeley, and majors in Asian studies and English, graduates with honors, got a job writing grants for a professor, has a child, gets married, gets a divorce, then has two more kids. Yummy goes out to live her life very free to make her own decisions and mistakes.  Not that having all different fathers for her children and getting a divorce is upheld is the US but seems much more common than any other time.  Once again in the discussion I had with my Asian classmates, they mentioned about success and family being a very important aspect of their various cultures.  Having different fathers and divorce is more so frowned upon although it obviously still happens.  Now this coming from 21st century women at a liberal arts college probably reduces the rigidity of some older men and women’s stances on these issues.  For Yummy to have had to communicate with her father and mother to an extent, seems like a difficult task and some may even say impossible.  Whenever she would write them though she would bring up topics with the hope of not creating conflict but to try and involve them in her life. A month before graduating college she wrote, “I am enclosing two round-trip plane tickets for you and Mommy that I bought with my prize money. I hope you’ll come.” then after their absence she wrote, “I hate you,” (40) and this was her way of showing her ache to have her parents apart of her life.  Then when she had Phoenix and her other two children, it seemed like she would really like them to meet.  She even specifically says, “I wish you could meet him,” (42) after having her first child.  To me it seemed Yummy tried to put the conflict between them behind her and just try to involve them into her life without bringing up sensitive issues that their ideals brought between them.

In conclusion, Yummy’s letters were her way of trying to reconnect with her parents despite the barriers in ideals and culture. It shows through her letters that she still had a real love for her parents and wanted to stay connected, but felt that their ideals and her life choice would continue to distance them.  This kept her away from them all those years.  Understanding a little more about some of the culture in Eastern Asia, I can see why Yummy’s character caused much more conflict amongst the international Asian students in my class. Lloyds character portrays some of those ideals that they brought up.  Yet I think though she seemed distant, her letters were her way of bridging the gap that she felt she could not achieve in person.  Even as I finish this essay, I still feel as though Yummy was justified in her choice to leave, but now I understand other points of view.  The inability to speak between the ideals that not only but specifically to Japanese and American cultures create distance, but Yummy’s letters were an attempt to fill that distance.  



Anne Dalke's picture


I’m assuming that you hadn’t finished the novel, when you wrote this draft; when you do, you’ll have a better understanding about why Lloyd didn’t write back... :)

Again! Lloyd did NOT “originate in Japan”!! He has NO “Japanese heritage!!! (I’m curious why you’re sticking to this story? What in the novel suggests this reading to you??)

I was also surprised to see that you omitted, as evidence supporting your claim, the powerful passage amanda.simone read in class: “I didn’t hate him, Cass. I loved him!....I ran away because he used to love me and then somewhere along the line, when he couldn’t control me anymore, he just stopped, you know?...I couldn’t stand that…Oh, God, Cass! I loved him so much….” (242).

But of course the real change, in this draft, has to do with your emphasizing the reactions of some of your international friends. Did you actually talk further with your Chinese classmates, or are the mentions you make of their views based on what was said in our class two weeks ago? In either case, you need to document those conversations in your “works cited.” (Oops: see that you don’t have one!)

I’d written, last week, that there was no “movement” in your paper, that your “conclusion” was identical with your opening. And now I’m noting, despite all the new material, that this week’s draft also ends w/ basically the same ending as the first: a paper about the letters as a “way of bridging the gap” has “changed” (not?) into one about the letters as “an attempt to fill that distance.” So the conversations with your classmates didn’t alter the position you had before you talked with them, don’t seem to have shifted the direction of your argument?

You end by saying “in conclusion.” Might you try, next time, to avoid that? NOT to conclude, but to end with some sort of “opening” to the next question? Also, drop “thus” J --a little too archaic, I think, for a 21st century Mawrtyr?

We’ll also need to think together, in conference, about your next paper: does this draft have an emergent third one in it (one that you really can “grow”?), or might you be ready to start drafting a new paper about The Collapse of Civilization?

Also, let’s keep on working a little with grammar: please bring a corrected version of this sentence to the conference we have scheduled this week: “Yummy’s letters are important aspects of the book because it allows us to understand more about her character and her relationship between their family and friends.”

Oh! And because you’ve spoken so poignantly, several times, about your own sense of being one of those who “walked away,” I think you may be very interested in MadamPresident’s reading of Ozeki’s novel: /oneworld/changing-our-story-2016/changing-lives-others