Snow Falling on Cedars: Book Analysis

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Christopher Joinson Joinson 1
Dr. Karen Sheehan
Eng 12
4 December 2009

True love’s course is derailed by the rippling wake of prejudice in Snow Falling on Cedars. In this very well written novel, we are reminded of the sheer destructive force of unjustified hatred. David Guterson brings to life a romance that seems so destined to be, just to have it ruined by social turmoil. It plays to a sympathetic heart that so much is lost because of the shape of one’s face. “Look at my face,” interrupted Hatsue. “Look at my eyes, Ishmael. My face is the face of the people who did it-don’t you see what I mean? My face-it’s how the Japanese look.” (Guterson, p.139)

This paper will focus on three characters whose lives in this story are changed forever in the face of fear, panic, and above all racism. The setting takes place in the Pacific Northwest, an island named San Piedro, which is set off the coast of the state of Washington. It is a close knit community with a large concentration of Japanese immigrants. They, like many small islands have a large fishing community, but they also have good land for farming. The time frame ranges from the late 1930’s, through World War Two, and up to the year 1954. The setting, especially the time, is an extremely crucial integral part of the entire story’s relevance when investigating the prejudicial aspects. As during all time periods, Guterson’s characters have their own unique outlooks and views. Some characters go with the social norms by treating Japanese people unfairly, as if they were able to change who they were. Some white residents went to

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cruel lengths to alienate people who had, just as they had, come to America seeking opportunity. “Thirty-nine Japanese worked at Port Jefferson mill, but the census taker neglected to list them by name, referring to the as Jap Number 1, Jap Number 2, Jap Number 3, Japan Charlie, Old Jap Sam, Laughing Jap, Dwarf Jap, Chippy, Boots, and Stumpy-names of this sort instead of real names. Then there are the radicals who went against society and followed the laws of human kindness, the ones who cared for all people, regardless of creed or race as it states in the Constitution. In any culture these differences are usually shaped by family values, but can have negative consequences due to environmental stimuli. Ishmael Chambers is a Caucasian man in his early thirties. He is a clean-cut all American type man who runs a newspaper on San Piedro Island. Hatsue Miyomoto is a Japanese woman of the same age. She appears as a fairly typical Asian woman with a very traditional upbringing. Kabuo Miyomoto is a Japanese man, also in his thirties. He is very well disciplined man who believes in tradition, honor and karma. Each person, although similar in certain ways, loves very deeply in their own personal way.

Ishmael Chambers was taught at a very early age about equality and tolerance. Much of this can be attributed to his father, who began a newspaper that thrived on truth and morality. Ishmael is a wounded veteran, who has lost a large part of his arm due to a gunshot during World War Two. It renders him self-conscious to the point where he notices subtle differences in the demeanor of people he encounters. Later in life, this takes effect on his view of the Japanese people and drags them into a poor light for being

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associated with the Germans. Things weren’t always so, as he harbored an undeniable love for Hatsue. Ishmael grew up with Hatsue and had spent many years of his life with her. It began with a salty kiss on the beach that would change their friendship immensely. “he moved into the warmth of her face anyway and put his lips against hers.” (Guterson, p.74). He kissed her because of an inward feeling that said to him “this is right”. It was the right moment for him, but it was not yet reciprocated. She ran off and left him to ponder and fret about his decision for ten days....
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