David Guterson’s Snow Falling on Cedars

Powerful Essays
David Guterson’s Snow Falling on Cedars

The years 1940 through 1955 portray a time in America’s history when many Americans harbored a strong fear and distrust for Americans of Japanese descent. A closer look at this dark period for America reveals how the fictional character Kabou Miyamoto, in David Guterson’s Snow Falling on Cedars could easily have been presumed guilty of murder simply because of his Japanese ancestry. Historical documentation can be related to the events in the novel to help explain the mindsets of the characters and to understand why the town suspects Kabou of this crime and then precedes to issue a charge of guilty. The prejudice that Kabou experienced in the book was typical of experiences that many Japanese-Americans went through from the time period 1940 through 1955. Discriminatory laws of the time period, such as the Alien Land Bill and Executive Order 9066, coupled with a growing distrust and hatred for Japanese people make life a hardship for Japanese-Americans and make it easy for the jury to convict Kabou of murder solely because of his Japanese descent.

In February of 1942 a San Francisco columnist, Henry McLemore wrote, “I am for immediate removal of every Japanese on the West coast …Herd ‘em up, pack ‘em off. Let ‘em be pinched, hurt and hungry! I hate the Japanese. And that goes for all of them!” (Stanley 16-17). This feeling of hate was common in America at this time, reflecting a tendency to confuse the enemy nation of Japan with American citizens of Japanese ancestry. A poll conducted in March 1942 found that 93 percent of Americans supported the evacuation of alien Japanese, and 59 percent supported the removal of Japanese- Americans who were citizens (23-24). Americans acc...

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...o prove his innocence. The jury followed their emotions and the lead of the counselor to do their patriotic duty. During the early 1940’s, over 110,000 Japanese and Japanese-Americans experienced the same feeling as Kabou when they were treated as criminals and endured imprisonment, not for any crime they committed, but solely as a result of their heritage.

Works Cited

Gesensway, Deborah and Mindy Roseman. Beyond Words: Images from America's Concentration Camps. London: Cornell University Press, 1987.

Girdner, Audrie and Anne Loftis. The Great Betrayal: The Evacuation of the Japanese-Americans During World War II. London: Collier-Macmillan Ltd., 1969.

Guterson, David. Snow Falling on Cedars. New York: Vintage Contemporaries, 1995.

Stanley, Jerry. I Am an American: A True Story of Japanese Internment. New York: Crown Publishers, Inc, 1994.
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