Racial Prejudice in David Guterson's Snow Falling on Cedars
'It's not one ocean,' said Hatsue. 'It's four oceans...They're different from each other.'
'Well how are they different?'
'They just are.' (Guterson 97).
Snow Falling on Cedars, David Guterson's award winning novel, is set on an island in Puget Sound in the early 1950's. It is a story of the racial prejudice that was felt so strongly against Japanese Americans immediately before, during and after WWII. Kabuo Miyamoto, the man accused of murdering Carl Heine, would never have received a fair trail, had it not been for Ishmael's late introduction of crucial evidence and Judge Fielding's morally right choice. That Kabuo never stood a chance of getting a fair trial can be supported by actual historical evidence from the time period and evidence of prejudice and discrimination taken directly from the novel. The general attitude of anti-Japanese feelings was so strong among many, that Kabuo would have never gotten a fair trial.
One historical event that shows the general attitude of anti-Japanese feeling that was so prevalent in the 1940 to 1955 time period is an article from the Tuesday, March 24, 1942 edition of the New York Times. The article is written in Manazar, California, the same place where the Japanese people of the novel were sent. The article's title "Japanese Begin Evacuation Trek" is a show of prejudice itself ("Japanese" 21). The fact that the wholly unconstitutional relocation of not only aliens but American citizens is called a "evacuation" is laughable. This event was the forced relocation of people who reminded some other people of the tragic events of Pearl Harbor. To do this nowadays would be like gathering up all Arab-Americans ...
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... there might have been enough evidence to find him innocent. Through reading the book, it was clear that the jury was going to convict him and almost certainly it was based on race. The prejudice and racism that was so clearly seen not only in the novel, but also in historical context, was so great that Kabuo never stood a chance of getting a fair jury trial. That is he never would have been acquitted of the crime had the Judge have not dismissed the jury in light of evidence, both physical and written, turned up by Ishmael that all but proved Kabuo's story and innocence.
"20,000 for Arizona" New York Times 24 March 1942: 21.
Guterson, David. Snow Falling On Cedars. New York: Vintage Contemporaries, 1995.
"Japanese Begin Evacuation Trek" New York Times 24 March 1942: 21.
"Move to End Citizenship" New York Times 7 January 1943: 40.