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Atmosphere through Detailed Language in Snow Falling On Cedars
Snow Falling On Cedars, by David Guterson, is an emotional story. The death of a fisherman, Carl Heine, on San Piedro Island, turns into a murder trial for Japanese American, Kabuo Miyamoto. Also an inter-racial childhood romance between Ishmael Chambers and Hatsue Miyamoto shifts back and forth in time and the World War II Japanese Internment story unfolds as part of the romance.
David Guterson creates atmosphere in the opening chapters through detailed language. The story is set on a pacific island where society is very small and the fishing community is very important to islanders. Guterson uses the sea, weather and landscape to describe many features in the opening chapters; this creates links between the setting and story. The use of flashbacks creates an interesting aspect to the novel. Guterson introduces the characters in very detailed portraits; this enables the reader to have a clear identity of each one. Tension is created in the courtroom through prejudice language and Guterson creates an atmospheric feeling to all court scenes.
Kabuo Miyamoto is described as a criminal from the beginning of the murder trial; already the reader gets the impression that he is guilty for murdering Carl Heine. "….his stillness suggested a disdain for the proceedings", this shows how Kabuo is feeling a dislike towards the trial, and creates a static atmosphere for the trial ahead. Kabuo also shows that he has no respect for the court as, "….he sat proudly upright with a rigid grace", and he does not acknowledge anything that is going on, "…did not appear moved at all". Throughout the detailed description of the opening court room scene we can see that the atmosphere is very tense, and creates a feeling of suffocation, "It was a place of gray-hued and bleak simplicity".
Kabuo Miyamoto comes across to the reader as a sensitive individual who is taking this murder trial in his stride. David Guterson shows that Kabuo was depressed whilst, "been exhiled in the county jail for seventy seven days - the last part of September, all of October and all of November, the first week in December", here Guterson lengthens the description of how long he was in jail for and creates a sense of boredom for Kabuo.
The weather and sea descriptions that Guterson uses to represent and describe many scenes, are essential as they represent the San Piedro way of life.
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The second chapter opens with a description of Mrs.E.Dokes, the judge’s secretary who records all the statements. Mrs Dokes, "…sat primly below the judges bench recording everything with silent implacability", here Guterson reveals how she is a narrow-minded lady who is already against Kabuo. Guterson then goes on to describe the Sheriff, Art Moran, he creates interest by giving a close, detailed view of Art. He portrays Art to be a shy gentlemen, "uneasy person, nervous in the face", and he comes across to be, not very bright and quite childish, "habitually chewed a stick of Juicy Fruit gum", showing his nervousness. "He lost much of his hair since turning fifty", showing he looks older than he is. Through the description that Guterson gives us of Art, we begin to see that he is an insecure man whose job is out of his league.
Guterson then interests the reader by introducing the first flashback of the book. The way the flashback begins, it feels that it is a nightmare for Art. The sunlight is used to reflect the perfect moment, "…by midmorning sunlight lay like a glaze over the water, warming his back pleasantly", creating a sense of calmness and security on the water. Guterson shows how the sea fog made it uneasy for Abel and Art to see what had happened to Carl and his boat, "…the night fog sailed and drifted in shreds of vapour towards the sun’s heat". The fog finally vanishes and we begin to see that the truth of what happened to Carl Heine, on September 16 abroad his boat the Susan Marie, is also becoming a mysterious event, showing the fog was hiding the truth. Guterson goes on to describe the ‘Susan Marie’, Carl’s boat. The description is unreal, Art becomes nervous and wishes that finding out what happened to Carl was nothing to do with him, "Art tucked another stick of Juicy Fruit between his teeth and wished this was not his responsibility.
A description of Carl is created very well and Guterson gives a clear portrait of him. "He weighed two hundred and thirty five pounds", showing he was the true, tough fisherman, also how he liked to relax on Sunday mornings with the family at Church, "On Sunday mornings he sat with his wife and children in a back pew of the First Hill Lutheran Church, blinking slowly in the pale sanctuary light". Carl is described as a loving, caring husband, who loves his wife dearly, "Carl had named his boat after his wife, also it shows how he was the quintessential man of the island and man of the time.
Whilst investigating the death of Carl Heine, the Sheriff, Art Moran feels that it has not been an accident as he says the children are innocent, "….children in life jackets at the flashing paddles a quarter mile off. They’re innocent". As Abel and Art pull up the net, Art was not expecting to find anything. As the net, was slowly realed up, "…they had picked up two dozen salmon from the net, three stray sticks, two dogfish, a long convoluted coil of kelp and a number of ensnarled jellyfish when Carl’s face showed. Guterson remains us, the readers, that it isn’t just a body that Abel and Art had found, but a best friend of theirs, this is shown in the repetition of Carl’s name, "Carl’s bearded throat….Carl’s face….Up came Carl". Guterson also shows how distraught they have felt and how sick they were feeling to see a fish fighting to live against a dead body, "…a salmon struggling in the net beside him". The shock that Abel is experiencing is shown in a simple, sharp sentence, "Abel Martinson stared". After finding Carl’s body, Abel and Art wonder if this is a murder or an accident.
Guterson shows us that Nels Gudmundson is an old, crippled man, still able to see shadows out of his left eye, "Nels was blind in his left eye and could distinguish only shades of light and darkness through its transient, shadowy pupil. Throughout this novel Guterson gives us clues to the outcome of this murder trial, a lot of these clues are conveyed through the description of the sea and light, he also uses repetition of certain things to create an atmosphere, "The mast lights. The picking lights? The net lights". We also see how Nels Gudmundson is on the verge of a nervous breakdown, "Nels suffered from an advancing neurasthenia", meaning nervous breakdown.
Time has past since Abel and Art found Carl Heine’s body, therefore now the body is being described as only a dead corpse, not Carl’s body.
David Guterson creates atmosphere and interest in the opening chapters by using detailed analytical language. He uses descriptive dialogue to show portraits of the characters, like Art Moran and Carl Heine. Throughout the opening chapters, Guterson refers back to the way the islanders live on San Piedro Island, secluded and in a close fishing community. Also the author likes to use light imagery to create a picture and atmosphere to specific scenes.