Snow Falling on Cedars


David Guterson

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Snow Falling on Cedars Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on David Guterson's Snow Falling on Cedars. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of David Guterson

David Guterson was born May 4, 1956. He grew up in Seattle, Washington, and later earned a degree in English literature as well as an MFA in creative writing from the University of Washington. He began his career as a writer publishing short stories and essays, and he taught high school before he was able to support himself with his writing. Guterson wrote Snow Falling On Cedars, his best-known work, over the course of 10 years before the school workday began, during the early morning hours. Snow Falling on Cedars earned him the 1995 PEN/Faulkner award, and it was made into a film in 1999. Guterson’s published works since Snow Falling on Cedars include East of the Mountains (1999), Our Lady of the Forest (2003), The Other (2008), and Ed King (2011). Today, he lives on Bainbridge Island with his family.
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Historical Context of Snow Falling on Cedars

The plot of Snow Falling on Cedars unfolds across the backdrop of World War II and the Internment of Japanese Americans in the United States. Following Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, fearing espionage, ordered the forced relocation of between 110,000 and 120,000 people of Japanese descent living in the United States to internment camps located in the western United States. Over half of those relocated were citizens of the United States. They were met with wretched living conditions, such as overcrowding, harsh climates, and wholly inadequate living conditions. The socio-economic conditions of Japan in the latter half of the 19th century and into 20th century resulted in a significant increase of Japanese citizens leaving the country in search of more profitable opportunities elsewhere. Hundreds of thousands of these immigrants arrived in the U.S. mainland, settling mainly on the country’s western coast. As the Japanese-American population grew, so too did tensions between Japanese Americans and white Americans. In 1908, the Gentlemen’s Agreement (an agreement between the U.S. and Japan) banned the immigration of unskilled laborers. The cruelty directed at the U.S.’s Japanese population following the attack on Pearl Harbor, thus, exaggerated already existent tensions. Snow Falling on Cedars traces the origins, sudden heightening, and dire consequences of this institutional racism.

Other Books Related to Snow Falling on Cedars

Snow Falling on Cedars features a fictionalized portrayal of real moments in history, namely World War II and the internment of Japanese Americans in the United States that occurred shortly after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. Other works of literature—both fictional and nonfictional—that deal with this moment in history are Julie Otsuka’s 2002 novel When the Emperor was Divine, and Jeanne Wakatsuki’s 1973 memoir, Farewell to Manzanar. Some prominent examples of literature focused on WWII more generally are Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five (1969), and Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead (1948). The intricacies of Kabuo Miyamoto’s trial are also a large part of Snow Falling on Cedars. In this respect, the novel may read within the crime fiction genre. Some examples of literary crime fiction are William Faulkner’s Sanctuary (1931) and Annie Proulx’s Accordion Crimes (1996).
Key Facts about Snow Falling on Cedars
  • Full Title: Snow Falling on Cedars
  • When Written: 1980s-1990s
  • Where Written: Washington, United States
  • When Published: 1994
  • Literary Period: Contemporary American Literature
  • Genre: Novel
  • Setting: The fictional San Piedro Island off the coast of Washington
  • Climax: Ishmael Chambers discovers that Kabuo Miyamoto did not murder Carl Heine, and must decide whether to disclose this information to the court or to keep it to himself.
  • Antagonist: Kabuo Miyamoto
  • Point of View: Third Person