Through the Arc of the Rain Forest by Karen Yamashita is a soap opera like tale that incorporates satire, symbolism and irony to address distain for environmental exploitation. The newly famous Matacao suddenly and forcefully changes throughout the novel from a spiritual natural resource to an object capable of monetary gain via exploitation. Through Yamashita’s great use of symbolism ranging from J.B. Tweed’s third arm, Mane Pena’s feathers, and Chico Paco’s spirit, we are shown how environmental exploitation of “resources” like the Matacao for capital gain will lead to both environmental and personal demise. J.B. Tweed is the novels oddest character of them all by having a third arm, which Yamashita symbolizes as capitalism’s driving force behind environmental exploitation. His 3rd arm is first portrayed as his drive to always wanting more or his boredom with his small achievements, “he found tasks so easy and, therefore, boring that J.B. himself was an unassuming projection of boredom” (30). This is Yamashita’s interpretation behind a capitalist market- a market that is never satisfied with their monetary gains. This can be further linked to her theme of environmental exploitation. As a capitalistic market we can never be satisfied with what natural resources can provide for us and instead have to exploit them until they run dry just as she shows us through her progression of the Matacao throughout the novel. The most noticeable symbol throughout the novel is the Matacao itself. Yamashita uses its portrayal to demonstrate the damage of environmental exploitation for personal gain by shifting how people view such a natural and mysterious wonder. In the beginning of the novel, it starts off as something that people are in awe of and a place that may be a spiritual site that is capable of healing. Prior to the influx of attention that the Matacao received, people knew that there was just “something about that place” (24). Dona Maria Crueza even went as far as praying to it as she held a rosary in one hand and, “…placed her hand on her television and prayed” (26). Lourdes, Dona Maria Crueza and the people of Brazil held the Matacao in high regard, and appreciated what its natural resources provided to them. Yamashita uses this symbolism of the Matacao before its exploitation as what nature is prior to people coming in and turning it into something strictly for monetary gain. Before exploiting our natural resources people used them in a more personal way while appreciating what it provided to them. However this quickly changes once money is involved as we see happen with the Matacao.
Once the shift is made to using these natural resources for capital gain Yamashita shows us through her Matacao that this will lead to our nature’s demise. As soon as J.B. Tweed arrives at the Matacao the shift begins. The Matacao changes from a natural and possibly holy ground to merely another business venture. The people behind the Matacao capitalist market didn’t wonder in its natural capabilities like the people of Brazil, but instead with “the new technology associated with the Matacao plastic” (141). The plastic could take on any form and imitate everything, and they sold it in any way that they could. Yamashita uses this to symbolize how a capitalist society extorts the environmental resources in other countries merely for monetary gain and are still never satisfied. As Yamashita shows us with J.B. Tweep after his success with the Matacao, “J.B. was still not satisfied.” (112).
However we are shown through the Matacao’s “slowly but definitely corroding” at the end of the novel that extorting the environment merely for monetary gain will leave us with nothing. Yamashita describes her Matacao as, “horribly disfigured, shot full of tiny ominous holes, the mechanical entrails of everything exposed beneath the once- healthy plastic flesh.” (207). Yamashita attempts to show us through her Matacao that