Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

You are here

Risen From the Ashes

Iridium's picture

            Among all the characters in the book All Over Creation, I view Phoenix as the most typical and impressive role played in the novel. He is neither in his sister’s age, nor a mature adult. Too kiddish will be too bewildered on what to change, too adultlike will be too stubborn to change, but he is the transition from a child to an adult, so he is one of the most outstanding characters in the novel showing how identity self-consciously shifts in respond to shifting environments.

 In the light of psychological construction to analyze kids, especially those who are very young, probably under ten or so, they are like balls of mud which are very easy to shape and reshape. The reason I use mud as a metaphorical example is that this group of kids is easy to shape and reshape. They do not have a certain concept about the world, personal interrelationship, or natural laws etc. Without able to critical think, what they have learnt are all from what the outside world teaches them. The outside world can either add more water, cement, or send into the ball to change the “mud’s” shape conveniently. Like Ocean, Phoenix ‘s younger sister who is six years old, once someone tells her what something is, she will take what the person says immediately. That’s how young kids are like. They eat everything fed into their mouth without consciously judge what the thing is. They learn only about whether a thing is true or false, right or wrong about what they were taught, but they still lack the ability to be sensitive and make judgement by themselves. The contact between them and the outside world is unidirectional.  

However, Phoenix, a fourteen-year-old, is right on the midpoint between childhood and adulthood. He is like a ball of half-dried mud, which is a little bit more fixed than before but still has room to reshape. Some judgements have sprouted in his heart, but most of them are not mature yet. His grandfather notices the difference between him and his younger sister on the dressing style that the boy is “wearing a pair of brand-new Carharts” stolen “off of someone’s clothesline” but the girl is “dressed in whatever it was that her mother put on her” (Ozeki 147, 148). “How can a fourteen-year-old have a lifestyle? But looking at the boy, Phoenix, [Lloyd] saw that one could” (147). He might think the Carharts pants will be cool on him, and without anyone telling him what to do, he stole it and put it on by himself. From Phoenix’s judgement about clothes, we can tell that he starts to realize about how the contact between him and the outside world become bidirectional. So Once something in the environment changes, he takes action to make the reaction but not nods his head like what his sister will do presently.

Sometimes, teenagers take so many actions that their parents think their kids involve into rebellious period. So does Phoenix. His mom Yumi has no clue about why the boy does not like his given name and insist others to call him Nix. But she forgot the connection between the current situation and the situation where his name came from. She tells Elliot that Phoenix means “risen from the ashes” (196). When she ran away from home at the age of fifteen, she was a homeless drug user; Phoenix’s father brings her back to and takes care of her with his friends; they get her in a celebrated college and she finally graduates from it. Everything dark and hopeless turns out to be bright and hopeful for her during that time. Therefore, she names her son as Phoenix. But later, she fells back into ashes again. Phoenix can feel it. As a result, he thinks that he is not worthwhile to be called this name because his mom is not a phoenix anymore. She becomes mundane, and in the way she treats her children, she is even worse than many other parents. To not make this contrast be a satirical joke, he prefers to be called Nix.

Another evidence for his self-consciously identity shifting in respond to environment shifting shows on his attitude of responsibility towards his family. Yumi does not take her kids’ bullied experiences seriously. Having been “Indian Princess” for years, she does not know what being bullied feels like, and like her father belittles her when she is young, she belittles her kids and her kids’ peers.  Without support and suggestion from mother, Phoenix has to deal with his and his sister’s problems by himself because as the oldest male in family, it is his responsibility to protect others. He loves them so much that he wants to keep the family peaceful, so he takes the charge which Yumi should have taken: when he is bullied by his classmates, he uses Thai kick and breaks one’s nose; since he sees the threatening letter, he carries a knife with him; when he is beat and tied up by the Sheriff’s son and his crew, he runs away and stays with his sister to protect her. He takes care of the family when the father figure is missing and the mother figure is selfish and careless, and he stands up and defends the family when the society wants to do bad on them.

            From Hawaii to Idaho, and from childhood to adolescence, he becomes more alert to potential risks and prepare himself better to face the next challenge. Not like “little birds” in normal family who do not need to shift themselves much because they are protected safe and sound, he has to cope with tough situations by himself. But someday, under the push of environment shifting, he will be a phoenix himself- “risen from the ashes” (196).


Work Cited

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


Anne Dalke's picture

I’m liking your decision to focus on Phoenix, the not-child, not-adult figure in Ozeki’s novel who gives us a great example of identity-in-transition. Great choice!

And, as usual, I’m liking your use of evocative metaphor—this week it’s the malleability of mud as an image for the capacity of children to have their identities be reshaped by forces outside themselves. In accord with that image, you present Phoenix as “half-dried,” beginning to take shape, and/but still able to be re-shaped. It’s interesting for me to see you contrast that image with the one his mother uses to name him: the Phoenix that, as you report, is the child who has “risen from the ashes” of her affair with Elliot. I’m also appreciating your reading of how he “negates” that meaning, by re-naming himself “Nix.”

You end by predicting that he will, in time, rise from the ashes of his current life….When you finish the novel, I’ll be interested to hear whether you think your prediction has been fulfilled!

So I think the challenge for the revision you’ll be working on this week is how to turn this strong description of Phoenix’s evolution into an argument. What is the point/purpose/meaning/larger implication of his changing self? What does it demonstrate about “shifting identities, altering environments”? Does the shift in environment from Hawaii to Idaho affect the shape he takes? What about his decision not to join The Seeds of Resistance in their trip to the west coast? What claim can you make, in other words, that goes beyond describing the changes he’s undergone, and predicting those to come? For example, is his process exemplary of, or distinct from, those younger and older than he is?

We didn’t get a chance to do much sentence-level work in your last conference. For the next one, would you focus on this sentence, see if you can figure out how it might be corrected/improved? “Without able to critical think, what they have learnt are all from what the outside world teaches them.” Thanks!