In My Years of Meat by Ruth Ozeki, segmented episodes where Jane Takagi penetrates into the lives of various “american wives” function together to construct one coherently distressful message of the mass producing, profit oriented, mask wearing image of capitalist America. Between these bursts of plot, the one underlying theme of consumption, packaging, and mass distribution in the name of prosperity is represented by a single entity – Wal-Mart; its ugly identity remains static and transcends through each episode of the close inspections. Wal-Mart is shown to be the perfect representation of a falsified face of American culture, both in its shimmering image and its hidden despicable flaws, and in how it corrupts homeland America, as well as deceive Japan.
In America, Wal-Mart is like a disease-filled, brainwashing corporate machine. People are described as zombie like and “spent all their days off at Wal-Mart” (Location 540). Towns are sterilized and equalized into copies of each other, as if Wal-Mart’s giant gloved right hand stamps on the mark of advancement while its rotten black left hand crushes and brushes away the traditional Main street Mom n’ Pop shops. Wal-Mart has the ability to wipe clean any character, there is no race, sexuality, or disability in its eyes, and with the same welcoming embrace it accepts all and contaminates all; it is there that Susie buys her Pepsi, Gracie buys the toys, and Suzuki finds his porn. Ruth also describes the twisted values of the corporation in the case of the Bukowsky family, where “Wal-Mart did the right thing and paid a handsome settlement” (Location 2122). To the cold faced manager who refuses to admit liability, amendments for his mistake did not involve any remorse or humanly emotions. Instead of fixing their wrongs from the root of the problem, Wal-Mart’s attitude of corrective action is simply monetary repayment.
Yet such a flawed creature is glorified in Japan as the “awesome, capitalist equivalent of the wide open spaces and endless horizons of the American geographical frontier.”(Location 559). In reality Wal-Mart is more like a pretty curtain drop in front of a vulgar mess of disturbing meat production and processing; it serves as a filter between the ugly truth, and the dressed up version presented to the masses. However to Ueno, the image casted onto the curtain is precisely what he wishes to broadcast to the people of Japan, both as a means to satisfy their hunger for western understanding, and for his own selfish incentive of promoting beef. Since the Japanese crew’s very initial contact with Jane, “Waru-Maato wa doko?”(Location 538) already sounds like a desperate cry in the pursuit of a falsely constructed wholesomeness.
In My Years of Meat, Wal-Mart is singled out as a symbolism for the foulness within American culture. On one hand it corrodes individualism within the U.S. and uses mass production as a means of creating the frenzy that lies in the source of unethical meat production. On the other hand to the viewers in Japan, only a craftily manipulated image of western power is put forth. By planting this central argument within the familiar image of Wal-Mart, Ruth urges us to see beyond what is fed to us, and find courage to peer behind the curtain and see the unpleasant truth.