MYOM: Evoking Shōnagon

In My Year of Meats by Ruth Ozeki, one of the main characters, Jane manifests Sei Shōnagon, a writer from the Heian period of Japan. Sei Shōnagon, well known for The Pillow Book, wrote in the popular genre of diary literature. Ozeki uses this style centuries later when portraying the story from Jane’s perspective.  The use of the diary literature genre allows the audience to view the story from a reflection of events that have already transpired.

Jane is first introduced in chapter one as an artist set on being a documentarian.  She describes herself as being unique and “polysexual, polyracial, perverse” (9). She also speaks men’s Japanese to further distance herself from everyone else. At the end of the chapter, Jane briefly describes Sei Shōnagon and recognizes the parallels between herself and Shōnagon, specifically Shōnagon’s use of men’s writing and Jane’s use of “men’s Japanese”(9). It is appropriate that Jane’s writing reflects the popular style of Shōnagon.   However, Jane’s diary entries are not presented in an orderly fashion.  Ozeki takes Shōnagon’s model and modernizes it by fragmenting the entries.

Chapter one begins with Jane remembering when she wrote the pitch for My American Wife over a year ago.  This causes her to reflect on the events of the past year and realize the effects on her life. However, this form allows for a more powerful reflection than just a personal one.  Sei Shōnagon commented on her own observations; Ozeki is also commenting through Jane.  Through Jane’s writing, the fragments form a documentary that exposes the façade of the television show, My American Wife, and how manipulative the meat industry is. Throughout the passages in Jane’s perspective, Jane’s bitter attitude towards her job is provoked.  For example, she describes her producer as an issei with a British accent and “a sense of global entitlement” (26). Her bitterness in this case may also stem from the fact that Jane is both American and Japanese; she is the product of two cultures.  However, unlike her producer, she does not put on a façade to mask one culture, but completely forges her own uniqueness. She marks her producer as an imitator of the West to cover his Japanese culture.  Also, the show proclaimed that because a “real American crew” filmed it, the show was authentic (28). Jane constantly exposes the deceptions involved in making the show. For example, Jane notices the use of Pepsi instead of Coca-Cola during the show. Although it is a minor deception, Jane still perceives it as a fake.  She also notices how the television show serves as a commercial; the line between commercials and television show is blurred.

“One requisite of a good documentarian: you must shamelessly take what is available” (33). Jane does this through her diary entries; by commenting on what she sees, modeled after her parallel, Shōnagon, Jane is able to expose the deceptions of the marketing of meat.

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