David Guterson, a young American author, has written two major works regarding aspects of human nature and human emotions. His first publication, a collection of short stories, entitled The Country Ahead of Us, The Country Behind addresses some of the moral dilemmas that humans face throughout their lives. His first novel, Snow Falling on Cedars, narrates the trial of a Japanese man accused of murdering a white man in the post World War II era. Throughout his literary works, Guterson uses elements of nature: land, trees, water and especially snow, as literal and metaphorical tools to develop and resolve conflicts.
David Guterson uses the same aspects and characteristics of nature in two different ways. First he describes in visual detail the literal or actual effects that elements of nature have on the characters in the story. But more importantly Guterson uses nature to convey substantial and symbolic meaning in the lives of the characters in his stories.
One of the elements of nature that Guterson uses as a tool to develop the conflicts in Snow Falling on Cedars are the strawberry fields on the island. These fields represent an important source of income for the community. Traditionally the Japanese laborers worked the fields and the white Americans owned the fields. The question of the ownership of seven acres of strawberry fields serves as the apparent motive for the murder of Carl Heine. To a local Japanese fisherman, Kabuo (accused of murdering Carl Heine), the ownership of this land promises a secure future and ultimately independence. "...she knew that Kabuo wanted a strawberry field.. nothing more than that" (Snow Falling 89). "His dream...was close to him now, his strawberry land, his happiness" (Snow Falling 456). The strawberry fields connected Kabuo to his past and symbolized a continuity of life. "My father planted the fathers of these (strawberry) plants" (Snow Falling 362).
Guterson also uses snow metaphorically to make the ownership of the strawberry fields disappear and seem unimportant in life (Snow covering the fields permitted the reader to veiw the ownership of the fields as a very materialistic and selfish thing). After the snow has fallen it acts as a purifier to all the wrong that has come of the fighting over the ownership of the fields. "Center Valley strawberry fields lay under nine inches of powder...the snow fall obliterated the boarders (of the fields)... all human claims to the landscape were... made null and void by the snow"(Snow Falling 320). The snow covered the fields; all of the fields seemed as one field. The nine inches of snow caused a visual unity of the strawberry fields. "..the world was one world"(Snow Falling 320).
The element of water is used as a paradox in Guterson's novel Snow Falling on Cedars. Water is both the sustainer and taker of life. The damp and misty climate on San Piedro Island is the reason why the community grows and prosper off of the strawberry based economy. Without the water, and the wet and nurturing environment it provided to the island there would be no foundation for life. The ocean is also one of the key sources to the community. It provides the community with a way to make a living.
Water, the source of life in Guterson's literary works, is also the end of life. In several of his works water is portrayed as the place where life ends. "...the wall of water rose up from behind...Carl Heine fell swift and hard against the Susan Marie's port gunnel. His head craked open above the left ear and then he slid heavily beneath the waves"(Snow Falling 458). The tidal wave was the cause of Carl's death; the water, this element of nature was truely responsible for the death of the fisherman. In that sense Gutersonn uses water metaphorically to represent the circle of life; the source of life, the maintenance of life, and the end of life.
Guterson uses trees as a...