TROPIC OF ORANGE BY KAREN TEI YAMASHITA
In an apocalyptic take on immigration Karen Tei Yamashita’ s Tropic of Orange focuses on a single week from the perspective of six different people living in Los Angeles. The plot begins with Rafaela supervising the construction of the Chicano journalist Gabriel’s house in Mexico. From here Rafaela and the rest of the world sees poisonous oranges from Mexico flood into America and kill many citizens, even causing a riot that shut down the Harbor Freeway in Los Angeles. The shut down leads to a shoot out in which the National Guard is called in to restore order, while Emi, a TV producer and Gabriel’s girlfriend, films the violence. At the same time that Emi is covering this violence, Gabriel is tracking a group of people who are selling body parts to rich Angelenos, and Bobby Rafaela’s Chinese husband tries to help and illegal immigrant, and an honorable social reformist who lives in the ghettos, Buzzworm becomes a TV sensation. Another character is the homeless Manzanar who pretends to conduct traffic as a maestro would lead an orchestra. One of the most symbolic characters is Archangel who is immortal and though he has seen many events over his long life, during the time all this is taking place is fighting SUPERNAFTA in a wrestling match.
The entire plot is spaced into a week and divided by the days of the week going in sequential order from Monday to Sunday. The chapters have the day of week as its title, but each character also splits the novel into their own title and subtitle which corresponds with their personality and focus for that day. Emi’s life, for example, revolves around TV so all the headings for her chapters deal with different times of the day and the subheading deal with different programs that come on at different time of the day.
In a world where people are most concerned with their own everyday lives and the past experiences which fuel their concerns it becomes apparent that the theme of the novel is creating a multicultural civilization where each person can feel at home in their own skin. The theme of time is also explored as a social construct since each character measures their day and lives in different methods such as Bobby’s financial success compared to Emi’s personal success with television.
With no one main character, each of the seven main characters bring their own understanding of the world around them to the novel, with Archangel symbolizing the past, present, and future eons of time. All the novel’s characters seek to bridge the gap between their personal past and cultural past.
Emi- A news reporter. Dating Gabriel. Her parents are Japanese immigrants. As a TV producer she is always watching TV and her life revolves around its scheduling, which is reflected in her sections.
Bobby- As chinese immigrant sent by his father at a young age to make something of himself, Bobby began a life with his wife Rafaela and had a child named Sol together. All his life he has had to support others, by paying for his little brother’s college, sending money back to his father in China and now through the care taking of his wife and son. Due to all his responsibility he realizes that his ability to provide comes down to how much money he has and now he is concerned primarily with money and how he will pay his various bills. All his chapters are divided into different bills he has to pay and are labeled as such.
Rafaela Cortez- A woman who is entrusted with overseeing Gabriel’s farm in Mexico with her son Sol. She is married to Bobby who is the father of her son, and while his chapters are concerned money, hers are all focused around the time of day and the place of the sun in the sky since she is the most attuned to nature.
Gabriel Balboa – A newspaper editor who tries to fight social injustice through his reporting, and is consumed with work. He titles his chapters in relation to his work such as Friday being titled Overtime.
Buzzworm- A black social reformist who lives in the ghettos and tries to uplift the people there. He arranges his sections by what he is listening to at the time.
Archangel- An immortal being whose time is spaced differently then the rest of the characters. Some of his sections of chapters are unrecognizable as an entire day or mere moments passing. The thoughts he expresses in his sections are much more broad than the rest of the characters who are concerned with their day to day lives. At one point he is shown to use superhuman strength to physically close the gap between the Tropic of Cancer and Los Angeles by picking up the Tropic of Cancer and pulling it to Los Angeles. His sections are titled by actions performed in a day such as Monday: To Wake, Tuesday: To Wash, Wednesday: To Eat, Thursday: To Labor, Friday: To Dream, Saturday: To Perform, and Sunday: To Die.
Manzanar- A homeless man who pretends to conduct traffic, especially in the case of the backup and riot on the Harbor Freeway in Los Angeles, as if it was a symphony. Every section he is in expresses concern with the time of day and what that means for the current traffic patterns.
Through all these different characters and their backstories the theme of culture and race is ever present in the plot of The Tropic of Orange. The idea of transnationalism is one of the main themes in this novel and through the advancement of technology each one of the characters escape through some form of it. It serves as a uniting principle for all the characters of different backgrounds, though it is not necessarily a good way for them to connect since technology is breaking the emotional bonds of people for each other and turning them to feel for the economy and the capitalistic system. This can be seen in the way the characters organize their days and overall week as in Emi’s obsession with television, Buzzworm’s categorizing his day through songs that come on his walkman, and Manzanar’s organizing his day due to traffic patterns made up by cars.
The theme of time as a social construct is also at the heart of this novel as each character measures their day using a different unit of measurement, all of which are different from the conventional use of minutes and hours from a clock. This is a more fitting way for the characters to unite and is spoken about by Archangel who is impervious to time as he is immortal. In the fight with SUPERNAFTA who says that technology is what unites people because this kind of advancement bridges time, Archangel responds with saying that there is no aging in the passing of time, just changing and that through this change people can change together without relying on outside forces such as technology or consumerism.
The film will be shot primarily in Los Angeles, with some scenes being produced in Mexico to foil the business of the California city. The city of Los Angeles will be broken down depending on the character and where they inhabit. Many places in L.A. are mentioned such as Manzanar while he is stuck in a traffic jam such as U.S.C., Forum, The Greek, and Hollywood Bowl. Buzzworm will show the more undesirable places of L.A., Rafaela will serve as the bridge between the Tropic of Cancer, Mexico, and the United States, Gabriel will show the rich areas exclusive to high society part of L.A., Bobby will show the financially struggling working class who focuses on bills for his home and family more then going out for fun, Manzanar will show the on-the-go business man who travels various roads to work, Emi will show the behind the scenes television influences which seep into the homes of every citizen on L.A., and most importantly Archangel will show not necessarily a place, but the location of people within the span of time through his thoughts of hundreds of years before the story takes place to in the moment thoughts.
The scenes in Mexico and The Tropic of Cancer will be sparse, but both are necessary for the film. The scenes in Mexico will show an expansive field with a well kept house that is Gabriel’s and the scenes filmed here must show the time of day through natural progressions of the sun, with the sun being high in the sky during Rafaela’s first chapter titled Midday and peaking through the sky in the section for Friday titled Dawn.
The city of Los Angeles will be explored through the different characters and their different social standings. Since there are so many different locations some will be cut and replaced with the character telling another major character or friend what happened, such as when Bobby had to go to Tijuana, Mexico.
- Action Scene
Cars stopped one behind the other like dominoes which were falling against one another. Red tail lights lit up the highway and told each and every car on the Harbor Freeway to stop, that there was no more road to travel, and no farther anyone could go.
A sudden explosion had every driver, back-seat driver and passenger running down the road that looped itself through the city. There were panicked people everywhere. Then there was Buzzworm. He took control over the situation as best he could. After yelling at a camera man filming the madness then shoving a boom into his face for a scream that Buzzworm would not allow to escape, Buzzworm pushed the camera man into a van with Emi. Buzzworm wanted to get out of the craziness. He gunned it. Screeching through the swarm of uncontrolled and unmitigated madness, he mad the mistake of looking in the rear view mirror and saw how out of control the situation had become. Helicopters were flying over the parked cars. It seemed as if the blades chopping through the air, could not cut the sound of panic and Buzzworm was surprised the helicopter could stay in the air since it seemed so dense with panic.
Buzzworm made a second mistake and looked at the passengers seat where Emi sat bleeding and astounded at all the action around her. Buzzworm just shook his head a bit at her unrelenting and abhorring dedication to her job and floored it. She must have seen his expression, because not long after Buzzworm’s sideward glance Emi’s eyes began to water and the pain hit her. All of a sudden it became clear to Emi that this was not something that she was producing and in control of, that it was not something so removed as one of her daily shows that she could turn off, but that the flashing lights and screams were all around her and continuously were penetrating her mind and her wound. It was not something she could turn off, or that anyone could turn off.
The rear tire blew and Emi was suddenly in Buzzworm’s arms as he dashed through explosions and a hailstorm of bullets. Through a fizzled explosions smoke, Buzzworm looked behind him to see the military marching through. He grabbed Emi’s bloody hand, pulled her into his arms and ran.
- Dialogue Scene
47: To Die – Pacific Rim Auditorium
Archangel: Ladies and Gentlemen! Welcome to the Pacific Rim Auditorium here at the very Borders. It’s the Ultimate Wrestling Chammmpppionnnnshhhippp! El Contrato Con America. Sponsored by a generous grant from the Ministry of Multicultures. Brought to you by the CIA, the PRI, the DEA, and the INS…”
(A murmur ran through the audience)
“Of Course the fight’s not fixed Why would anyone want to do a thing like that?”
(sighs of relief and snickers)
“Today ladies and Gentlemen, witness the battle of two of the world’s greatest fighters: SUUUPERRRRRNAFFFFFTAAAAA.”
(A great boo flooded the auditorium)
“and ELLLLLLL GGRRRRRRRAAAAAAAAAANNNN MOOOJAAAADOOOO!”
“But first, let’s meet and talk to the challenger and the champion before the battle begins”
(The audience turns to look the screen where both the challenger and champion will be displayed)
Supernafta: Today, my fight represents a challenge, not only to that Big Wetback,” he spit, “in the other corner, but to all the children of the world. TO that multicultural rainbow of kids out there. Kids, this is your challenge too. And the challenge is this: It’s the future. And what’s the future? Well, isn’t it what everyone really wants? It’s a piece of action. How about twelve percent?…Some people don’t want progress. Ny opponent doesn’t want progress. He doesn’t care about the future of all you wonderful kids. He thinks you ought to fun across the border and pick grapes. Think about it before any of you can be truly free, you need enough money to do what you want.”
(Half the crowed changed its boos to cheers for Supernafta)
El Gran Mojado: Noble people, I speak to you from the heart. There is no future of past. You all know that I am a witness to this. There is no aging. There is only changing. What can this progress my challenger speaks of really be? You who live in the declining and abandoned places of great cities, called barrios, ghettos, and favelas: What is archaic? What is modern? We are both. The myth of the first world is that development is wealth and technology progress. It is all rubbish. It means that you are no longer human beings but only labor. It means that the land you live on it not earth, but only property. It means that what you produce with your own hands is not yours to eat or wear or shelter you if you cannot buy it.”
In a country often called the melting pot, America is home to a spectrum of different cultures and people from all around the world. Though it is called a melting pot, America is more of a salad bowl with different types of people all living in the same country, the same bowl, but who are still distinguishable from other people and are able to be picked out due to ethnicity or cultural practices like a tomato could be picked out from the cucumbers and lettuce. With this new image in mind a film like this which uses magical realism to show the way different cultures interact within the same country in different ways. The characters in this movie are of all different nationalities, generation, and ethnicities making them a working example of how our country works, with the added benefit of magical events to keep the audience entertained and focused, while turning the magnifying lens onto a situation without it being so far fetched from reality that no one believes the problem could even exist let alone the situation. Through the magical events such as Archangels’ immortality, his pulling the Tropic of Cancer literally to Los Angeles and the poisonousness oranges causing the riots in Los Angeles the audience already understands that this world allows magic so the fight between El Gran Mojado and SUPERNAFTA makes sense and can point out in an exaggerated way, how consumer and capitalist economies marginalize minorities. The plot is interesting and divided in a way that will capture economically minded audiences, politically minded audiences, socially minded audiences, and those who like action. Tropic of Orange is a highly visual novel that focuses on knowing various locations in Los Angeles and the relation between this city and the Tropic of Cancer to understand their relationship. Also the riot scenes on the Harbor Freeway in Los Angeles is a scene that relies hugely on action and the ability of the reader to put themselves in Buzzworm’s situation and visualize the panic and chaos that is brought to Los Angeles through the lack of transnationalism and the complete drive of consumerism, making this a scene with huge big screen visual impact.