Culture and Authenticity in Linda Hogan's Power and Ruth Ozeki's My Year of Meats
Culture and Authenticity in Power and My Year of Meats
Linda Hogan’s Power and Ruth Ozeki’s My Year of Meats both pose characters who are struggling with issues of culture and authenticity. In Power, Omishto finds herself caught between two vastly different worlds. Omishto finds the American culture to be represented by her mother and Ama symbolizes the culture of the Taiga people. In My Year of Meats, Akiko begins to find herself caught between American culture which is represented in the television series, My American Wife!, and her Japanese culture which is symbolized by her husband, John Ueno. Akiko and Omishto both question the authenticity of the cultures they participate in, and their final decisions on which cultures they wish to be members of are based upon their personal views of the differing cultures genuineness.
Omishto’s mother symbolizes Omishto’s understanding of the American world of Florida where she resides. While attending church, Omishto notices that her mother’s singing “sounds treacherous and untrue”. Regardless of whether or not her mother once believed in the words she was singing, Omishto recognizes that her mother “lies to herself”. She is perceptive enough to acknowledge that her mother’s religiousness is false. Omishto’s mother is driven by a desire to fit in as a member of the American community, hence, she takes Omishto to church to be forgiven for killing the panther, for Omishto to be “taken back into the fold”. At the same time, Omishto comprehends that her mother and the church-goers forgiveness is inadequate. It is “a selfish gift” which only benefits the forgivers. Omishto recognizes these details in her mother and considers them to be false or unauthentic.
Omishto has mixed feelings for Ama. She describes how she views Ama differently, almost through civilized eyes, when she visits her after attending school. On these occasions she is more likely to find Ama “homely and strange”. Yet, other times Omishto feels love for Ama and considers her beautiful. Ama lives “halfway between the modern world and the ancient one”. She teaches Omishto the Taiga clan’s stories and about their relationship with nature. Omishto always believed that “Ama was going to grow old…like a true Taiga Indian…She was going to be proud of what she is in a way the rest of us are not, in a way my mother has never been”. Omishto found in Ama a pride for the Taiga heritage and culture which she discovered was lacking in her mother, and it seems to have given Omishto a greater regard for Ama than her own mother.
Omishto’s view of Ama is opposite of the one she holds of her mother. While in court, Omishto notices that Ama’s “back is straight, her shoulders square, and she has a strength, an honest strength” unlike that of her mother. While Omishto’s mother lies to herself, Omishto recognizes during the court trial that Ama will not “go along with a lie” even to save herself from the court. At the same time, during Ama’s court trial Omishto begins to notice that the courtroom is filled with Americans “who believe in secrets and twists of truth, but call for honesty”. There was no way that Omishto could explain to the court anymore than she could to her own mother who “would never understand” that during the panther incident she and Ama were led by a compulsion that was real yet intangible. That she and Ama were “under something that felt like a spell”, and they were following an ancient script.
Eventually, Omishto and Ama go to meet with the Taiga elders to inform them of what happened the day that Ama killed the tiger. Omishto again recounts the story and finds that with the Taiga people she is able to “tell it more true”. Surrounded by the Taiga people, Omishto finally comprehends why Ama killed the tiger. She grasps the “truth” of Ama’s action, and realizes that she must keep Ama’s secret regardless of how much it shreds at her insides. Through Ama, Omishto saw the truth of the Taiga clan’s ways compared to those of the Americans. Finally, Omishto grasped that she belonged with the Taiga people whose beliefs and lifestyle she deemed to be more authentic than those of Americans and her mother, a woman she was “afraid of becoming”.
While Omishto was caught between American culture and the culture of the Taiga, Akiko was fully submerged in her Japanese culture. She attempted to follow the traditional script of marriage and having children. Akiko’s marriage to her husband, John, was arranged by her boss at work. She gave up her career when she got married “in order to learn to cook and otherwise prepare for motherhood”. Yet, John is overbearing and abusive. He is obsessed with forcing Akiko to become pregnant, and proclaims that he desires his “own children…Not some bastard of a Korean whore and an idiot American soldier”. John feels pressure to uphold traditional values since “his mother was expecting a grandson”.
On the other hand, Akiko has been viewing the television series, My American Wife!. John is the “representative of the ad agency in charge of marketing the meats” for the series. He demands that Akiko view the series, complete a questionnaire, and prepare the recipes from the shows. However, he is displeased with Akiko’s “Authenticity ratings”. She gave the first show “a 3 for Authenticity” which John did not find accurate. As My American Wife! began showcasing American families of greater diversity Akiko began giving higher authenticity ratings. Yet, John’s displeasure with Akiko grows as he argues “So what you are saying is that your evaluation has nothing to do with true Authenticity. It’s just an arbitrary number based on your own questionable and subjective tastes”.
However, John’s comprehension of Authenticity for the show is that it should be based on the stereotypical Japanese image of the “all-American”, an image that is based on “middle-to-upper-middle-class white American” women with “traditional family values” which are comparable to the values of Japanese culture. He is not concerned with depicting American wives as they really are. He is only concerned with providing a good image for his product, meat. John does not recognize that his understand of Authenticity is subjective a well. Yet, Akiko enjoys the episodes of My American Wife! which represent the different forms of diversity within America, and she begins to question the validity of her own culture compared to the American culture she perceives by watching the television series.
After viewing the episode with the Bukowsky family, Akiko compared the people in the show to the people in her life. For her, “There were no townspeople. Nobody came” after John physically abused her. Akiko considered that if people in her community had come to visit her it would have only been from curiosity. Contemplating the Dyann and Lara episode, Akiko realized “She wanted a child; she’d never wanted John”. Akiko saw how happy the two women were with each other and began to desire that same happiness for herself. Akiko proclaimed that “I know I never want marriage and with my deep heart I am not “John’s” wife…I feel such sadness for my lying life”. Akiko grasped that she had been living a hypocritical life she did not believe in by following the traditional values of Japanese culture. Instead, by traveling to America, Akiko did find comfort in the American culture. She was the grateful recipient of Southern hospitality on the Chicken Bone train which infused “her small heart with the superabundance of its feeling”.
Ruth Ozeki’s My Year of Meats and Linda Hogan’s Power both illustrate characters, Omishto and Akiko, who are dealing with the issue of which culture they wish to be members of, and their cultural choices are influenced by the people who symbolize those different cultures for them. Akiko was influenced by her husband and the individuals in the television series My American Wife!. Omishto was influenced by Ama and her mother. Akiko’s and Omishto’s cultural decisions were also based upon their own subjective interpretations of authenticity within the cultures, and they each chose the culture which they personally deemed to be more genuine.