Sei Shonagon: Streams and Lists

Ruth Ozeki’s My Year of Meats is a narrative that spans the three lives of different women through the creation and production of a cooking show starring American mothers cooking meat, which is advertised for Japanese families. The three women include the producer and creator of the show, named Jane; a viewer of the show in Japan, named Akiko; and an American mother named Suzie.

The beginning of the narrative begins with a passage from The Pillow Book, written by Sei Shonagon in 1000 A.D. Japan. In the passage, the court lady during the Heian period describes the beginning of her process of writing through the technique of stream of consciousness, stating that those seeing the book would think “now one can really tell what she is like” through her “put[ting] things down exactly as they came to me”(Ozeki,1). Shonagon is also described by Jane as a list-maker, creating them for what she calls “splendid things” or “depressing things” (Ozeki 14). These two elements of Sei Shonagon’s writing serve as models for Ozeki’s writing in this narrative.

The type of stream of consciousness continues throughout the narrative, being the model of writing that Ozeki uses. One example of this stream of consciousness can be found right after one of the narrators, Jane, brings up Shonagon. In this part, Jane talks about her own identity as American and Japanese, and her ability to “straddle this blessed, ever-shrinking world” through this dual identity (Ozeki, 15). This stream of consciousness about her identity seems to be a trademark of Shonagon and her own wish to be uninhibited in her expression of self through writing. Another example of this would also be found in Suzie’s choice in buying new bedding instead of keeping her old quilt. In this part of the narrative, we find her thought process laid out to us as to why she chose to get rid of the old quilt through her own stream of consciousness (Ozeki 24).

Another way that Shonagon’s work seems to serve as a model is through the use of lists that different characters use. We see Jane creates these lists when she is entertaining “John,” Akiko’s husband. In this scene, Jane finds “John” disgusting, creating a list in her mind of things that are “hateful,” “presumptuous,” and more (Ozeki 44). Lists are also made by Akiko in an attempt to free herself from her disappointing marriage (Ozeki 39). These lists seem to be important to the characters because their creation comes from being in negative situations. It may be that this gives them a sort of power, to characterize what is happening around them and help act on it in some way.

The streams and lists made by Sei Shonagon served as models for Ozeki in that we see the plot through the streams of the characters, and the characterizations in the “lists” of the characters. Suzie ends up being the only character without a list, ironically leaving her as the character with the most lost in the narrative. This may, then, have been done on purpose by the author to emphasize the need of lists for the characters.

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