The Transformation of Ishmael in Snow Falling on Cedars

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The Transformation of Ishmael in Snow Falling on Cedars

What can be said about a novel of such luminance as Snow Falling on Cedars that has not already been said? Certainly it is a work of much vision and insight and speaks volumes about prejudice and race. The wordplay of Guterson creates a world of vivid reality-it surrounds the reader with sights, smells and a clearly defined sense of touch. Perhaps lost amidst the smells of the strawberry fields, the cold of the winter storm, and the deep social statements about the nature and quirkiness of prejudice is the fact that this beautifully crafted story of immense complexity is in reality a very simple story about the identity of one man. Guterson himself says, "Post-modernism is dead because it didn't address human needs. The conventional story endures because it does. I'm interested in themes that endure from generation to generation" (qtd. in Kanner). This book is a conventional story, a simple story about the internal battle of Ishmael Chambers as he struggles with himself. This is made evident in the subtle and not too subtle comparisons made between Ishmael and other characters. Taking all of this into account reveals that the true theme of the book centers on the transformation of Ishmael from weak to strong.

First, who is Ishmael Chambers? He is the son of a very well-respected and prominent citizen of San Piedro, Arthur Chambers. When Arthur dies, Ishmael takes over the job as the local news reporter. He is introduced into the story as a journalist in the trial of Kabuo Miyamoto and appears to remain aloof, a passive third person eye that would analyze the information impartially. In addition to being a reporter, Ishmael is also a war veteran with a missing limb as a souvenir to boot. The reader gets the feeling that Ishmael plays a small and minor role in the upcoming plot. This, however, is false. As the book gathers momentum, it becomes increasingly clear that Ishmael ties into the fabric of the outcome of the story-from the childhood and young adult romance between Hatsue and him, to the emotional scene where his arm is amputated, to the final climax where he discovers the evidence that can clear Kabuo's name, Ishmael is the crux on which the storyline hinges.

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