The tomatoes are a surprise. The image of the round, plump vegetable-fruit is at first obnoxious, but Alexander Kuo wields it into a lasting image with weight and sophistication in “Growing Tomatoes.” That is what good imagery does: it unifies a story, providing a common idea or illustration that reinforces a story’s purpose.
In the short fiction, Kuo’s unnamed narrator relays a series of anecdotes from his childhood up until present day. The common factor is the tomatoes his father grew and juiced from his vegetable garden.
There is something in this story—something romantic, and bitterly true that speaks to me. We don’t chose our memories or even the objects and events that will mean most to us in the future. A great deal of the time, the memories we remember best originate from unlikely and unpretentious sources. For Kuo’s narrator, it was the tomatoes. The imagery in this piece helps manipulate the tomatoes into characters of their own, creating an effective and cohesive story about more than fruit but about a child and his journey into adulthood.
The image of tomatoes in this piece undergoes a transformation. The tomatoes’ image starts off as massive objects from the narrator’s childhood that he despises, and “cannot stand its rawness,” (172) to this day. First, it’s significant that he chooses to first describe the tomato in one word: giant. There are other ways to illustrate the appearance of a tomato, words like red, ripe, and shiny come to mind. There are others, but by describing them as “giant,” Kuo momentarily adopts the language of a young child. What’s more is that the tomatoes seem to grow up, much like how the narrator does. Fifty years later into his life, he’s reached the same age his father was in 1944 and growing tomatoes of his own. He discloses his present distaste for the tomatoes throughout the piece, but indicates that he has always saved room for them. Admitting that he saves room for something he doesn’t like to begin with suggests that the memory from the beginning of the story is one that’s become important to the narrator. Further into the story we get another description of them. They’re not the same dank and dark tomatoes he recalls to us from his youth. Instead, they take the shape of something more developed and tender. Kuo writes: “I wake to hear the tomato leaves brushing gently against the backdoor of my house … the fruit bursting like blood in the burgeoning quarter moon,” (172). The words “brush” and “burgeon” are not as harsh as “dark” or “dank” suggesting the tomatoes have transformed from the awkward, globular objects from his youth. Beyond that, consider the words “brushing” and “blood.” Tomatoes, to some extent, are living members of the world, but they do not have control of their bodies like humans do nor do they bleed traditionally. This personification suggests that the memory and significance of the tomato has sprouted and taken life in the narrator’s present world. In other words, the narrator is reinforcing a claim that the most powerful memories often originate from unassuming sources.