Difficult Choices in David Guterson’s Snow Falling on Cedars

1976 Words 8 Pages
Difficult Choices in David Guterson’s Snow Falling on Cedars

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
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Islanders do not have any desire to acquire a better understanding of the Japanese residents and their culture. This fact is very important when we consider that Kabuo’s personality is bringing him closer to a guilty verdict, not because of guilt, but because of overall ignorance and prejudice.

Guterson exploits racism and prejudice as a choice by presenting the reader with characters that are influenced by it. The victim had been a friend of the accused during childhood, yet they are portrayed as prejudiced at some point after the war. We see this during Kabuo’s summation of the events. Carl says “I was out at sea, fighting you goddamn Japs sons a--” to which Kabuo replies, “I killed men who looked just like you-pig fed German bastards…. So don’t you talk to me about Japs, you big Nazi son of a bitch” (404). They had both been to war and it seems that this event has torn apart their ability to be fair.

The characterization of Etta Heine is one of extreme hatred. Her character is presented as a flat individual consumed by racism. This is evident when Etta is called to testify during the inception of the trial. She tells a story full of hate, resentment and envy. Etta did not approve selling part of her land to a Japanese and her argument against it illustrates it: “We’re not such paupers as to sell to Japs, are we?”(120). It is not because she doesn’t like the money or because she cared about the island or for the strawberries that
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