In My Year of Meats, the character progression of Ruth L. Ozeki’s heroine Akiko Ueno becomes increasingly evident. At the start of the novel, Ozeki portrays Akiko as a fragile woman with an abundance of personal issues, including constant abuse from her husband as she struggles with an eating disorder that renders her infertile. By the end of the novel, however, readers realize that she has overcome some of these obstacles and gained stability and happiness in her life.
As soon as Ozeki introduces Akiko it can be inferred that she has an eating disorder: “When her periods stopped coming, Akiko’s doctor had told her that her ovaries were starved and weren’t producing any eggs. Akiko’s husband, Joichi, was very upset. He told her that she must put some meat on her bones…” (20. 4). This is this first instance in which readers can recognize that Akiko has some emotional problems as starving oneself until she is infertile is clearly unhealthy.
While the situation itself is sad, one can grasp the concept behind why Akiko decides to starve herself into infertility: her husband. Akiko’s husband, Joichi/John, is abusive, both physically and mentally, and Akiko wants nothing less than to be pregnant by him. [As Carolyn See argues, “He bullies, and she resists the only way she can-by not eating, so that she won’t get her period and thus won’t get pregnant by this awful man”, making an entirely plausible claim as to why Akiko refuses to eat anything, or purging afterward if she does.
This makes John furious and causes him to put ridiculous limitations on his wife, as if she were a child: “‘I told you never to close this door,’” John screamed. “Do you understand? You are never to be in the bathroom after meals with the door closed! ’” (131. 3). Though he is aware that she makes herself sick every time she eats, John does nothing to actually comfort Akiko emotionally, which is obviously what she needs; he only wants her to get better so she starts menstruating again and he can have children, which is what he believes people expect of him.
Even when Akiko gets her period again (which she believes is from eating the Hallelujah Lamb prepared on the show), she goes to extreme lengths to hide it from John, living in constant fear of his abuse. This does not pan out smoothly, however, as when he finds out she has been hiding this from him, his abuse only becomes worse. In saying that John caused the vast majority of Akiko’s problems, however, one should not assume that he did nothing for her benefit, though entirely unintentionally. As he worked on the show, John had Akiko watch My American Wife! nd critique it based on a variety of categories (though he would only become angry if he did not agree with her on her answers, yelling at her until she cowered in fear), in addition to cooking. “Akiko learns more than how to cook meat, as she watches ‘My American Wife. ’ She sees the possibility for a whole new life opening up… ” (Walker). My American Wife! gives Akiko the opportunity to meet Jane and, in turn, the ambition to leave Japan and her oppressive husband in hopes for an improved life. Without My American Wife!
Akiko would never have seen that there are different kinds of people and different ways of living, such as Lara and Dyann. These two wives showed her that the marriage she had was not the only type there had to be; she did not need to be overpowered by her husband because in fact she did not need a husband at all. Throughout My Year of Meats Akiko’s character develops in a number of ways. Readers are able to witness how watching My American Wife! and interacting with Jane inspire Akiko and give her the aspiration to turn her life around.
She goes from a frail woman living to please her husband to one who leaves him without excuse or explanation. When Akiko finally does get pregnant, she “conceived, in her mind”(305. 4) the conception of the fetus and watches it grow inside of her through each stage of development. While she is actually glad to be having a baby, unlike her attitude about pregnancy in the beginning of the novel might suggest, her previous struggles with eating disorders could have a negative effect on the process.
Numerous studies show the high correlation between women who have or have had eating disorders in the past and their inability to conceive a child. A severe decrease in body weight or low body weight to begin with can often times cause a condition called amenorrhea in women. Amenorrhea is the medical term used to describe the absence of periods in a woman who is not pregnant and has not yet gone through menopause (WebMD), as Akiko suffered through the majority of My Year of Meats before she had the ability to get pregnant. While “ Just a 5 percent weight gain may bring back er monthly cycle and ovulation” (Judd, 302. 1), usually with the woman pushing through this weight gain for “six to twelve months, before becoming pregnant” (Judd, 302. 2), this can be extremely difficult for any woman, especially one with a past history of eating disorders.
It is also pertinent for the mother to maintain and gain a healthy amount of weight throughout the pregnancy to provide proper nutrition to the fetus and prevent damage to it, or they run the risk of the child being born a “low birth-weight baby that is growth-restricted or even stillborn”(Judd 302. ). The emotional toll this could take on a woman who is recovering from Anorexia Nervosa or Bulimia could be severe, bringing back past feelings that brought on the disorder in the first place. In Ozeki’s My Year of Meats, Akiko did not menstruate and, therefore, could not get pregnant due to her long time struggle with eating disorders. This problem is prevalent among innumerable young women today, which could affect their chances of getting pregnant in the future.