Notes on Snow Falling on Cedars Themes

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Snow Falling on Cedars Topic Tracking: Racism

Chapter 1

Racism 1: Kabuo's trial gives the reader the first hint of the quiet racism that pervades the town. The courtroom tends to assume that Kabuo's silence indicates his guilt. For them, his behavior is alien, "Japanese," and impossible to understand.

Chapter 4

Racism 2: Throughout the investigation into Carl Heine's death, the white islanders condemn and deride the Japanese islanders, saying they all look the same, etc. However, Guterson takes care to point out the "foreignness" in the white islanders: many of them have Danish accents and distinctly European ways.

Chapter 7

Racism 3: In the courtroom, the Japanese citizens sit in the back, not because they are forced by law--instead, they are forced by public custom. Throughout the history of Japanese settlements, it seems, an assumption has been made about the inferior status of the Japanese. They could not own land, for example, if they were not citizens, and they could not be citizens because they were Japanese.

Chapter 8

Racism 4: Hatsue worries about what her families will think about her relationship with Ishmael. While Ishmael is not so concerned, for Hatsue race is a central question. She feels starkly uncomfortable kissing a boy who is not Japanese, and she later is in love with Kabuo partly because he is "right" for her in the way that her elders want.

Chapter 9

Racism 5: Etta Heine's racism causes her to dislike selling her land to the Miyamotos. Eventually, while they are away at the camps, she sells the land they were holding and sends them back their money. She does not seem to understand why they are angry with her, and sees something alien in their expressions when they look at her--something that disturbs her.

Chapter 15

Racism 6: Fujiko feels the pressure of race when she finds out about Hatsue's relationship with Ishmael. For her, they must stop seeing each other--not because she does not like him or disapproves of his family, but simply because he is white and not Japanese.

Chapter 24

Racism 7: Ishmael recalls his father's legacy as one of fairness to all races. Some of the Japanese townspeople of San Piedro even come to his funeral to tell Ishmael about their respect for Arthur. Ishmael himself does not feel as strong and idealistic as his father. When he learns that Kabuo must be innocent, he does not proceed in the public way his father would have. He is not so interested in making political pronouncements. And yet he too feels that the trial is wrong, and that he has to do something about it.

Chapter 27

Racism 8: Kabuo and Hatsue felt they had to lie about what happened the night Carl died, because they didn't think anyone would believe their story anyway. They had no reason to think they would get a fair trial, because of the history of persecution of Japanese people on the island. Kabuo is very aware that he looks like the soldiers the U.S. were fighting in the war, and he doubts that San Piedro's white citizens can forget about his race.

Racism 9: Kabuo points out that, as much as he is a "Jap," Carl is a Nazi. Both of them were born in the United States to immigrant parents, and both of their ethnic backgrounds were enemies of the U.S. during the war. Kabuo is sick of being associated with Japanese nationalism instead of American nationalism, and he lets Carl know this. Surprisingly, Carl agrees that ignoring Kabuo's patriotism is wrong.

Chapter 29

Racism 10: Alvin Hooks pointedly asks the jurors to consider Kabuo's eyes and face when the decide their verdict. He seems to be implying that one can know another's innocence or guilt based on the way they look-particularly when they look different.

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