It is mid 1950’s in predominantly white populated San Piedro Island. One of its residents has been murdered and another stands accused of the crime. From the first chapter and through the use of flashbacks, David Guterson makes us aware of the racism that exists in the small, West Coast island of San Piedro. The victim, Carl Heine, is of European descent; the accused man, Kabuo Miyamoto, is of Japanese ancestry. There also is a small community of Japanese residents on San Piedro Island. David Guterson’s novel Snow Falling on Cedars includes themes about love and war, but none is more central than racism and prejudice as a choice of the heart and mind of the individual. The collection of characters, complex or flat, that Guterson presents sets the tension and focuses the issue of individual choice.
The trial is in its opening stages but already the reader can experience the racial tension in the atmosphere. Confirmation of this fact is provided by the sitting arrangement of the twenty-four islanders of Japanese ancestry in Judge Lew Fielding’s courtroom: “No law compelled them to take only these rear seats. They had done so instead because San Piedro required it of them without calling it a law” (75).
Residents from San Piedro Island are not tolerant of the racial differences that existed between the Japanese residents and the rest of the community. These feelings had been increased by the order to intern Japanese persons under the assumption of military necessity during World War II. Guterson makes this clear when he writes: “Suckers all look alike. Never could tell them guys apart” (43). These words, uttered by fisherman Dale Middleton when questioned by ...
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...tting in his father’s place, how he’d arrived at the same view of things. He was, it occurred to him, his father’s son”(439). Finally, “He read her letter another time and understood that she had once admired him, there was something in him she was grateful for even if she could not love him” (442) and coming to terms with his destiny, decides to disclose the evidence.
Guterson’s conclusion of Snow Falling on Cedars is a reminder of the many choices individuals must face during their lifetime. As Ishmael ponders while writing his editorial, he realizes that because it is a matter of the heart these choices “had a will and would remain forever mysterious.” Ishmael understood this, too: “that accidents ruled every corner of the universe except the chambers of the human heart” (460).
Guterson, David. Snow Falling on Cedars. New York: Vintage, 1995
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