Snow Falling on Cedars

by

David Guterson

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on Snow Falling on Cedars can help.

Snow Falling on Cedars: Chapter 15 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Hatsue and her family leave San Piedro. It’s a miserable journey to the internment camp. They travel by train to a transit camp, sleeping in horse stables and eating only canned figs, white bread, and coffee. The food makes Fujiko sick, and she is ashamed at having to relieve herself in front of others, barely maintaining her dignity. They board another train after three days. It’s crowded and miserable, and a baby won’t stop screaming. Eventually they arrive in Manzanar.
In vivid detail, Guterson describes the horrendous conditions to which people of Japanese descent were subjected during the process of relocation. The FBI men who arrested Hisao framed his relocation as a war effort, and similarly, the Imada family’s journey could also be thought of in terms of the war’s psychological effects.
Themes
Racism and Prejudice Theme Icon
The Psychological Impact of War  Theme Icon
The Imada family is assigned a place to live. Their room is adorned only with cots, mattresses, a lightbulb, an oil heater, and army blankets. The latrines outside overflow. Everybody is sick and apologetic about it. There is nowhere to wash their hands. The prisoners suffer silently, for “there [is] no sense in talking to anyone about things,” since everyone is in the same situation.
The prisoners suffer in silence, thinking that talking won’t make anything better. They internalize the hardships they’ve been dealt, just as Fujiko earlier told her daughters that Japanese culture instructs them to do.
Themes
Racism and Prejudice Theme Icon
Duty vs. Desire Theme Icon
One day, Hatsue’s sister, Sumiko, intercepts a letter Ishmael sent Hatsue. Sumiko opens and reads the love letter before bringing it “regretfully” to Fujiko. Fujiko reads the letter and is shocked and angered, realizing that her suspicions about Hatsue are correct. She knows Hatsue has been sexually intimate with Ishmael, and compares this to her own passionless, young relations with Hisao. Fujiko had suffered in silence, but Hatsue sought out pleasure. Fujiko wonders whether her daughter loves the white boy. She resolves to confront her daughter, but to “behave with dignity.”
Guterson confirms explicitly that Fujiko has had lingering suspicions about her daughter’s afternoon walks. Fujiko sees Hatsue’s dishonesty as a betrayal: she has betrayed her family’s trust, and she has betrayed the tenants of her culture by choosing to indulge her heart rather than suffer in silence, as Fujiko had done before her. True to her principles, Fujiko plans to handle the situation composed and “with dignity.”
Themes
Duty vs. Desire Theme Icon
Before Fujiko confronts her daughter, a group of boys from the island, including Kabuo, come by the make repairs and improvements on the Imadas’ sorry excuse for a home. Hatsue comes back while they are there, and Kabuo tells Hatsue he is happy to see her. Once the boys leave, Fujiko confronts her daughter about the love letter. Fujiko angrily tells Hatsue that she has deceived her family and herself. Fujiko proceeds to the post office, instructing the clerk to hold all their mail. She writes a letter to Ishmael’s parents, telling them everything. She apologizes and says everything is over now.
Kabuo’s appearance marks the beginning of his eventual romance with Hatsue. Fujiko is angry with her daughter because the relationship with Ishmael confirms her earlier suspicion that Hatsue’s soul has been tainted or marred by living among the hakujin. In other words, Hatsue’s relationship is proof that she has chosen fleeting desires over her cultural obligation to suffer silently.
Themes
Racism and Prejudice Theme Icon
Duty vs. Desire Theme Icon
Get the entire Snow Falling on Cedars LitChart as a printable PDF.
Snow Falling on Cedars PDF
Fujiko shows the letter to Hatsue, who informs her that the letter is unnecessary: Hatsue will write her own letter to break things off with Ishmael, as she realized she didn’t love him anymore when they were on the train en route to Manzanar. Hatsue says that she knows Ishmael isn’t right for her because she always had “this feeling like [she] loved him and at the same time couldn’t love him.” Hatsue then writes her own letter to Ishmael.
Hatsue tells her mother what she’s known to be true for some time now: that she can not remain torn between her desires and her duties, as she knows that doing so is wrong. Her desires are attached to fleeting, ultimately meaningless feelings, while her duties are attached to her cultural obligation to search for a greater, larger truth. When Hatsue writes her breakup letter to Ishmael, she chooses to honor her cultural obligations at last.
Themes
Duty vs. Desire Theme Icon
Kabuo brings the drawers he made for the family’s room, and Fujiko invites him to stay. She does this again, as Kabuo delivers other things for the family. A couple nights later, Kabuo asks Hatsue out to walk with him. She refuses, but realizes that Kabuo is attractive and kind. She knows that she can’t stay sad over Ishmael forever. A few months later, “when Ishmael was mostly a persistent ache buried beneath the surface of her daily life,” she begins to pursue a relationship with Kabuo. They talk about their mutual dream to farm strawberries once they return to San Piedro. Later, they kiss for the first time, and Hatsue feels sadness, realizing “how different his mouth was from Ishmael’s. He smelled of earth and his body’s strength was far greater than her own.” She tells him he must be gentle, and he says he will try.
Hatsue’s ultimate decision to pursue a relationship with Kabuo demonstrates her newly realized priority of cultural and familial duty. When she and Kabuo bond over their mutual dream to continue their families’ way of life and farm strawberries, Hatsue realizes that this new relationship is right because it allows her to honor her family’s legacy.  Though when they kiss Hatsue is saddened by “how different [Kabuo’s] mouth [is] from Ishmael’s,” she now recognizes that emotions like these are fleeting and not meaningful in the grand scheme of things—momentary pangs of sadness are secondary to the larger task of honoring who she is and where she came from.
Themes
Duty vs. Desire Theme Icon