Question: Snow Falling on Cedars is often characterized as “a novel of place.” What are the significant places in the text and what occurs in each? Compare and contrast the mood and the tension found in each of the settings and the role each provides in both character and plot development.
At the beginning of chapter one, the scene is set in the court room; there is tension inside and outside. There are storms that they can control and those that they cannot control. In this case, they cannot control the storm outside, but they can control the storm in the courtroom. These storms are interwoven in all aspects connected to the people; in this case, one cannot choose their race, like the Japanese, or who they fall in love with, as in the case of Hatsue and Ishmael. In san Piedro island, in Washington, the people are isolated from the rest by their fishing and strawberry culture. This difference in cultures is a source of tension, because people are isolated from all other people in the world. The trial is also happening on 7th December during the anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor (exactly 13 years later); seeing as the person on trial is a Japanese-American accused of maliciously murdering a white American, there is tension between the two races in the community. At the courtroom, the character built includes Ishmael Chambers, who is seething inside but has to act calm outside; he is described as sullen and awkward. While Kabuo sits awaiting trial, he displays his pride and is seen to be silent. However, as the trial unfolds, we see that he is in touch with his feeling. In chapter ten, we see that he is worried that the jury will interpret his cold exterior as a sign of guilt.
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At the docks, Ishmael has gone to get details about the incident to write on his paper. The tension realized here is mistrust. People mistrust reporters, even after Ishmael vowed to write only what was real in his paper. Another source of conflict was that Ishmael was struggling to live up to his father, who wrote only what was out rightly true. From his life, he had not yet made a clear distinction on how he would do this. Another reason why people mistrust Ishmael is because he makes a living out of words instead of using his hands. This is ironical as Ishmael lost his hand during the World War II, fighting for the dignity of the same people who are now discriminating against him.
This is to show that there is tension even among the white people. Supporting evidence of tension among white people is seen with the coroner, Horace Whaley; tension was mainly built on self-doubt; Horace doubts his abilities and considers himself a failure. He compares his body with that of the dead man Carl. He concludes that Carl’s is better and stronger. Both Ishmael and the coroner feel inferior in comparison to Carl. Meanwhile at the Office of the local coroner, more tension is brewing up when they realize that Carl has a wound on his head, which resembles one that has been inflicted by kendo, a Japanese ancient stick fighting technique. There is only one person skilled enough to inflict such a wound, and that could only be Kabuo.
These first two paragraphs are principally derived from the first five chapters of the book. From this, the plot of the book is built. Therefore, the author can jump between time and space to thread the incidents of the past that give meaning to the present.
Сhapters seven and eight
The most of the story is wound around marriage and Hatsue. It also talks about the flash back to her younger years, when she had kissed Ishmael on the beach and under the hollow cedar tree. All these are a source of tension to her. We see that she has also begun to feel old and is even wearing makeup. The tension is between her loyalty to her people, who do not see eye to eye with the white people, and her love for Ishmael, a white man. This tension forms a basis for most of Ishmael’s actions throughout the book.
There is also a flash back to Heine seniors farm, where he is selling acres of land to Kabuo’s father. This is a destructive memory for Etta, Carl’s mother and Heine’s wife, because she was opposed to the idea of selling the land to the Japanese immigrants. Tension is also evident in chapter ten, where there is an argument on whether or not Etta’s decision to sell the land that was half owned by Kabuo was unethical or illegal. There is also tension when Carl beats Kabuo to buy back his father’s land from old Ole. Another ethical versus judicial issue is when the Japanese seat at the back of the courtroom, no law forces them to do so, but the social status of the Japanese-Americans forces them to do so.
Also, it brings out the Japanese claim to justice: whether they are justified to seek justice or is it all in vain. An ironic situation occurs also when we note that even the white people in San Piedro are immigrants. However, they are from Europe and the others are from Asia. Though the other people like Etta had their origins in enemy countries such as Germany, they were not forced into internment camps like the Asians. When Arthur, Ishmael’s father, points this out in his paper articles, he gets threats.
While Kabuo is in the cell, he feels that the trial is a form of punishment for all the people he killed during the World War II. He also believes that he deserves it. This is despite the opinion of most of the people, in particular the Japanese-Americans. With the conclusion that his fate is not in his hands, he is willing to be found guilty of a murder he did not commit just to pay for his previous crimes. Conflict here is mostly personal and internal. He is fighting within himself in regard to what he did in the past. From this scene, the author sets ground to let the reader see the world and the events of the book from Kabuo’s point of view. This chapter also reflects Ishmael’s naivety, especially towards the ways of the world. In the past, he had the view that life was fair and that everything would work out for as long as someone believes in something. The events in these chapters are bringing out the conflict within him: to hold on to his naïve ways or accept that even in life there are tragedies.
As the book winds up, the evidence against Kabuo intensifies. Ishmael is in a dilemma, because he has found information on the light house that may exonerate Kabuo; he is caught up between wanting to help Hatsue, whom he still loves, and his hatred for her for betraying his love. This conflict is seen when he is at his mother’s house. He lies to her that he thinks Kabuo is guilty, and he knew this was not true. He knows that helping Kabuo will only make Hatsue less available than she was because she will re-unite with her husband. This conflict of interest continues when we see Ishmael making the decision to help Hatsue, but not because of goodwill, but because he wants her to be indebted to him. However, at the end of the book, Ishmael appears to have had a change of heart; he lamented saying that the accident rule engulfed every corner of the earth except the chambers of the human heart.
The final strike of conflict – evident from the jury
Out of all persons in the jury the one who believed Kabuo to be innocent until proven guilty was a white man, Van Ness. The author is quick to point out that like Kabuo, Van Ness earns a living from his arms. He might have been attempting to form a connection between the two. Van Ness refused to convict without sufficient proof of guilt. Two things arise from this conflict: the first gives Ishmael time to make up his mind and finally come forward with the new evidence, and the second allows the reader a chance to look at the white people as having a conscience. Even though they had been oppressing the Japanese immigrants, some white people still believe in the justice system. The author also subtly gives his opinion on matters of prejudice and stereotyping; that is, the stereotype that one can only accept the worst from the Japanese has been disrupted.
Finally, the residents compared Carl’s death to the storm purely dependent on chance and the whims of fate. This was so conclusive that it taught all the residents that the events they went through before and during the trial can be divided into natural conflicts, those that one cannot fight, and superficial conflicts, those that are purely dependent on the individual.