The first thing that is sure to burst upon the eye when one takes a look at the front cover of the book “My Year of Meats” by Ruth L. Ozeki is the eloquent quotation taken from the book review by Jane Smiley for ‘Chicago Tribune’ that describes Ozeki’s debut work as “A comical-satirical-farcical-epical-tragical-romantic novel … delicious … up-to-the minute.” (Ozeki unpaged). Probably, it would be hardly possible to find a better way to characterize this book. Smiley has perfectly managed to show the impression that is created while reading “My Year of Meats”. The book gives rise to many feelings in the soul of a reader, which make him think about many topical issues of human existence. This fact is the best evidence of the high quality of the book. In fact, “My Year of Meats” provokes the association with a kaleidoscope because it tackles and focuses on a great number of issues of great importance for society and individuals. The work covers such areas as gender, race, culture, sex, advertising, and, certainly, meat industry. All of these topics may be characterized by topicality; this is why the choice of one question of primary importance has proved to be a difficult one. However, the choice of the most interesting issue was also determined by its relevance to the main theme of the book, which may be defined as authenticity of ethnicity, identity, and culture. Thus, two themes may be considered the most promising ones: gender and race. Gender and race are depicted by the authoress in “My Year of Meats” as the spheres of major concentration of prejudices and stereotypes.
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The theme of gender is vividly disclosed with the help of the main character of the book: the narrator, Jane Takagi-Little, a Japanese-American woman, who throws down all Japanese-American stereotypes: “I am just under six feet myself. In Japan this makes me a freak. After living there for a while, I simply gave up trying to fit in: I cut my hair short, dyed chunks of it green. … Polysexual, policultural, perverse” (Ozeki 9). The way the author pictures her main character deserves admiration because Jane Takagi-Little is the hurricane of intense emotions that cannot but make a reader be glued to the book in constant anticipation of the next eccentric turn of the plot inspired by the protagonist. The very creation of such powerful and charismatic character deserves appraisal. Jane Takagi-Little is the embodiment of female power, she is endowed and smart young woman, an example for others to follow. The value of her character will even increase if we take into account that the character of young Japanese-American documentarian is autobiographical. The charismatic young lady from the book is the direct reflection, the literary incarnation of the author, Ruth L.Ozeki. In fact, the book is the outcome of Ozeki’s personal experience of television production generated from sketches. It is clear that if the woman is writing about herself, the result of her literary creativity will be feminine, personal, sincere literary work where theme of gender will be observed at every page, in every line of the book.
It is evident that even the weekly series, around which the whole action unfolds, also has feminine smack. “My American Wife”, even the title of the television show signifies the image of a homemaker. The idea that is implied here by the author of the book is the huge influence of television shows on women. This can be easily observed by the example of Akiko Ueno, the character that is second in importance in the book. Due to the introduction of this character, the reader comes to know more about serious problems connected with “the doom” to be a woman.
With Akiko’s help, Ozeki emphasizes the problem of violence at home, the problem that is so painful for many women all around the world. A timid and frail Japanese housewife is the representation of an unhappy woman, a victim of injustice and callousness of her husband, she is an exhausted tired creature who is constantly suffering because of physical and moral humiliation by her spouse. John’s tyranny goes as far as to make his wife watch “My American Wife” weekly with special questionnaire to be filled and with obligatory cooking of the dish presented in the show (Ozeki 21). R. Ozeki cannot but draw the reader’s attention to one more problem of topical importance for women; she makes Akiko a bulimic showing horrors and dangerous outcomes of these eating disorders for women. Akiko is unimaginably thin; her thinness is the consequence of her moral state and the cause of her physical pain: “Akiko was so thing her bones hurt” (Ozeki 20).
Though the characters of Jane and Akiko are two opposite images, there is one thing that unites them, and the value of this thing is especially important for us because it has direct connection with the theme of gender in the work. The thing is female fertility, the ability to give birth to children and the ability to continue the existence of human race. Both characters have problems with fertility, Akiko is too weak physically and she has gynecological problems because of that, by the way, it is the cause of her husband’s constant rage and his desire to make his wife consume more meat to be able to produce his offspring. As for Jane, she also has gynecological problems because her mother used Diethylstilbestrol when she was pregnant, and that hormone caused problems with Jane’s reproductive function instead of doing her good.
During a year of her work with “My American Wife” Jane’s mission was to shoot a “wholesome” show about “normal” people (Ozeki 183). However, “normal” had a very stereotyped meaning, for instance, a vegetarian lesbian family was a catastrophe for the show, no matter how decent and sincere people the women were. Thus, the author casts light on the issue of oppression of female sexual minorities, one of the most frequently observed gender stereotypes.
Finally, it is impossible to discuss the book without touching upon race factor. Jane Takagi-Little is the embodiment of the racial problem that is still topical today. Even her double surname symbolizes stereotypes, and Jane describes herself as a person who does not fully belong to any race, both in Japan and in New York, she is a stranger. Beside the protagonist of the book, the families that took part in “My American Wife” also present race prejudice. Certainly, such participants of the show as the family with twelve adopted children who belonged to different races were also the people who scarcely fitted into the show’s format.
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One the whole, “My Year of Meat” is a very masterfully written work. However, it is evident that the focus of the book is not only meat industry with its harm of the usage of hormones and absence of safety for consumer, though this theme also needs attention. Still, the epigraph “Meat is the Message” (Ozeki 7) may be easily paraphrased into “Woman is the Message”. Ozeki presents the ugliness of stereotypes against women and race, making readers reconsider their opinion about women and the author teaches female population how to be active, free, and authentic.
Ozeki, Ruth L. My Year of Meats. NY: Penguin Books, 1999.