snow falling on cedars overview

snow falling on cedars overview

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     I chose the novel Snow Falling on Cedars, by David Guterson because I have heard from many people that it is a compelling story which truly depicts the inhumanities of racism. Human emotions are intensely conveyed in such riveting detail that one can not read this book without it leaving a permanent mark on their heart. Furthermore, I was not very familiar with the Japanese encampments of the mid nineteen hundreds. I knew that reading this novel would broaden my horizons and lead me into unknown territory.
Plot Summary
     A well liked fisherman named Carl Heine mysteriously turns up dead in the small island community of San Piedro Island. World War II is beginning and there is high suspicion of traitors among the islands Japanese immigrants. Kubuo Miyamoto is accused of this crime and is put on trial at a time of high prejudice. Miyamoto and Heine had been childhood friends but in their later years, their was an honorable dispute over land. Many signs pointed to Miyamoto’s guilt, but in the end, the cause of death is determined tragically accidental and Miyamoto is set free after spending three lonely, freezing, winter months in his desolate cell. A secret love affair existed between Hatsue, now Miyamoto’s wife, and Ishmael Chambers, the islands journalist when they were adolescents. They would meet in the dense shelter of the cedar forests where they would prove their lustful love for each other. Hatsue being Japanese and Ishmael being white was not only against all of societies morals, but against everything Hatsue had ever known; her entire culture and history. As tensions boil among the islands natives, the Japanese immigrants were subject to profuse searches, stripped of every priceless belonging, and deported to work camps. Among the confusion, families were torn apart left with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Ishmael and Hatsue were forced apart and Ishmeal joined the army and their efforts against the Japanese. Though many years have passed, Ishmael has never healed from the heartbreak of losing Hatsue and he is still desperately in love with her.

Kabuo Miyamoto:
     Kabuo is of Japanese decent. He emits an aura of honor, pride, and grace. His           deep dark eyes seem to show no emotion. He portrays great physical strength.           His features are very smooth and angular. His hair is cut very close to his skull. He           has a great sense of protection and feels he has a duty to care for his family.

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Honor           is very important to him. He would go to great lengths to preserve it. He takes           pride in his ancestors and their accomplishments. His tall stature is somewhat                intimidating.
Ishmael Chambers:
     Ishmael is the Islands journalist producing the entire newspaper single handedly. His      father originally did this, while young Ishmael sat as his apprentice. Regretfully, when      his father passed away, Ishmael took over full time. He has always felt insufficient to           his father, as if he could never fill his shoes with honor and respect. Ishmael was           very open-minded and never judged people by their appearance until after Hatsue,      his secret lover in his youth, was forced to leave. After that, Ishmael went to war           against the Japanese where he grows cold and heartless. He is tall, with the eyes of      a war veteran. His face is very weathered for only being thirty-one years old.                Ishmael is missing one arm because of an injury when he was at war.
Hatsue Miyamoto:
     Hatsue is a remarkably beautiful Japanese woman. She grew up on the island with      a family that instilled strict Japanese customs and demanded that they be met as to           not dishonor the family name. She won the Strawberry Princess title as a girl which           is an extremely prestigious crown awarded to one girl on the entire island. She is a           very hard worker and feels a strong connection to her family both in her youth as well      as into her adulthood. As a girl, she is torn between her given Japanese culture and           her fascination with the exciting cultures outside of her own. She often wishes she           wasn’t Japanese but simultaneously, she doesn’t want to dishonor her mother.           Hatsue is torn between what her heart tells her to do but she knows is wrong, and           the values her mother and father have bestowed upon her. As an adult, she is very           loyal to her husband and is the type to sacrifice her own happiness for that of      his.
Carl Heine:
     Heine was a very bulky, strong man. He had blonde hair and welcoming blue eyes.
     Carl was the classic family man; a loving, playful father, and a wonderful, tender           husband. There wasn’t a soul on the island who was not fond of Carl’s warm heart           and joyful laugh. He was a fair and honest man with a truly generous heart. He was           never one to pass judgment on anyone.
Sheriff Art Moran:
     The Sheriff is a bald, tall and lean man, looking almost emaciated in his fifties.                Compassion and understanding are among his greatest virtues. Yet he is a meek           man with little self confidence. He often looks nervous and is extremely uneasy           especially in confrontations. He doesn’t believe in himself at all and has no idea how      he became sheriff. He is very self conscious and afraid to make himself into a public           embarrassment.
Alvin Hooks:
     Mr. Hooks is the prosecuting attorney. He is very witty and clever, almost sarcastic.      He enjoys getting a rise out of the witnesses, especially the defense witnesses.           He is prejudice and tries to sneak in remarks to the jury to manipulate them into           thinking that because Miyamoto is Japanese, he is automatically guilty.
Nels Gudmundsson:
     Mr. Gudmundsson is the defense attorney. He is seventy-nine years old and blind           in one eye and color blind in the other. He is very unstable on his feet due to his           elderliness. He resents his age because of his slowness and appearance. He dwells      on the fact that he used to be extremely handsome and athletic. He feels                embarrassed by that because he had always felt admired.
     The story takes place in the years of World War II and it’s aftermath on San Piedro Island, a small, isolated island north of Puget Sound. Many Japanese Americans lived in the area at this time. This is the time when the entire Japanese American community was sent into exile . The island is so incredibly small that everyone knows each other which makes it much easier for people to make assumptions. In the 1950’s, interracial relationships were absolutely socially unacceptable. <>
     Snow Falling on Cedars is a drama with many different aspects and emotions. At various moments a courtroom drama, an interracial love story, and a war chronicle. These components melt into a novel that explores how individuals and communities abuse, retreat from, or use their histories at work today. It’s a “whodunit” complete with courtroom maneuvering and surprising turns of evidence and at the same time a mystery. Something altogether richer and deeper.
Biography of Author
     David Guterson lives on an island in Puget Sound with his wife and children.
     One main theme in this novel is that one should not make assumptions, instead make sure that all the facts have been collected and examined. There are several examples of people making assumptions in this novel. For example, Kabuo Miyamoto is being tried for the murder of Carl Heine. Because Miyamoto is Japanese, the town assumes that he committed the crime. Had the evidence been more carefully and completely examined, there wouldn’t have had to be a trial at all. They would have determined Carl’s death a tragic accident because they would have found the shipping records determining a freak accident caused by a freight ship. Assumptions also connects to racism. Any Japanese are automatically labeled spies and are shipped to internment camps for fear of greater information leakage out of the United States. Families are torn right up out of their homes and away from their loved ones only because they are Japanese. The majority of these families are on the United States side. Many have relatives fighting for the United States against their “brothers”
     Another theme is that one should be with the person that they feel right with, without the concern what others think. Despite the “unwritten rules” of society, if one is happy and feels right with that person, then they should do what makes them happy. For so many years Hatsue met with Ishmael to “walk” through the stretches of dense cedar trees when they were truly having a secret love affair. Hatsue tells Ishmael that she loves him but does not feel right with him because of her mothers wishes. She goes on to marry Kabuo whom she is satisfied with, but the passion doesn’t burn as it did for Ishmael.
Writing Style
     The vocabulary the author uses is easy to understand and fairly simple. It could be slightly simplified but not by much. For example, pg. 105, “He wondered if other boys did this sort of thing, if his voyeurism constituted a disease.”
     The imagery used to describe the scenery is quite descriptive. The author paints a vivid picture with his detailed word choice. He truly shows the reader instead of telling them. For example, pg. 107, “The path looped around the head of the bay, then down into a swale known as Devil’s Dip - ground fog shrouded it’s thimble berry and devil’s club, such was the clammy, low wetness of the place - then climbed among cedars and the shadows of spruces before descending into the Center valley.”
     The complexity of the book makes it slightly hard to read only because it involves so many sub stories and jumps around from one to another. It just takes more concentration because you have to separate each sub story in your mind yet they still all fit together as delicately as a puzzle to reveal the entire picture.
Relationship to my Life
          Racism and prejudice are societal evils that will never be completely diminished. The efforts against them are finally getting stronger. They have always had an impact on my life. I have never truly understood them. I really don’t see why one person is less valuable to the world because of something as unimportant as skin color. I feel that each and every person was put on this earth for a reason, to all work together to make the world a more colorful and beautiful place. Each one of us has something unique to offer our world. Yet the stubborn people who refuse to see through things as superficial as ethnicity bring the world down. I still believe that despite their negativeness, those people who have honestly accomplished acceptance for themselves as well as others lead the world in the most important directions.
     I enjoyed this entire book! It was very descriptive and really showed one what the scenery looked like. Human emotions are extremely intense and the reader almost feels as if they are feeling them because of the powerful writing. The only thing I didn’t like was how it jumped around; it became rather confusing at times.
     I feel very sorry for Ishmael. He is still in love with Hatsue and she won’t give him the time of day. It’s amazing how love can make one’s life so incredibly amazing, or at the complete extreme of complete misery. Love also has the power to change us for the better or worse, depending on our character and how we let it affect us. It’s the pessimists who usually change for the worse.
     From the first page on, I was hooked. It was very suspenseful and I couldn’t wait to find out what would unravel next. There were very few moments where I felt that the book was moving slow. Even if the event wasn’t that exciting, I learned so much about people and things that I would have else wise not known.
     I would definitely recommend this book to everyone of my peers. I feel that at the age we are at, we are constantly changing before we become the person we will be for the rest of adulthood. It is in these fragile teenage years that we can be influenced for better or worse. This book is definitely a good influence. The secret to battling racism and prejudice is youth. This book expresses the harmfulness of both of these things. Knowledge is power and we as a generation have a lot to learn.
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