Snow Falling on Cedars

by

David Guterson

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Snow Falling on Cedars: Chapter 7 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Back at the trial, the Japanese islanders sit in the back of the courtroom. They aren’t legally restricted to the seats in the back, but “San Piedro require[s] it of them without calling it a law.” The ancestors of these Japanese residents had arrived on San Piedro at the end of the 19th century, many of them finding employment at the mill. The census-taker didn’t record their real names, but had used racialized, derogatory nicknames instead.
The Japanese islanders’ position at the back of the courtroom illustrates the extent of San Piedro’s prejudice. That the island “require[s] it of them without calling it a law” shows that adhering to biased social norms is more necessary than adhering to the law. This scene serves a metaphor for Kabuo’s legal battle: he’s technically allowed a fair trial, but nothing can prevent the jury from acting on their own prejudices. Additionally, details such as the census-taker’s derogatory nicknames for Japanese people show that San Piedro’s racism has existed for a long time. 
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Over the next century, hundreds of additional Japanese immigrants arrived on San Piedro. After the island’s trees had been cleared and the mill dismantled, they had taken jobs clearing strawberries, another of San Piedro’s major industries. From here, some Japanese immigrants leased bundles of land, starting their own farming businesses. Most, though, worked as sharecroppers on land owned by their white neighbors. At the time, the law barred non-citizens from owning land. The law also barred Japanese immigrants from becoming citizens in the first place.
The clearing of San Piedro’s trees could be seen as a metaphorical destruction of a world free of prejudice. When the island destroyed their cedar trees, they chose to swap natural tranquility for social bias and prejudice. Guterson reveals that the early Japanese immigrants weren’t allowed to own land in order to emphasize the systemic racism against Japanese immigrants, and also to foreshadow the land feud that develops between the Miyamoto and Heine families.
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The work year of the Japanese strawberry farmers included the annual Strawberry Festival held at harvest time. A highlight of this festival was the crowning of the Strawberry Princess, who was “always a Japanese maiden dressed in satin,” representing something of an olive branch extended between the Japanese and Caucasian populations.
Racial tensions were so bad between the white and Japanese islanders that they deemed it necessary to conceive of the “Strawberry Princess” as a meager attempt at reconciliation. The image of a “Japanese maiden dressed in satin” is somewhat objectifying and seems to reflect the stereotype of Asian women as virginal and docile.
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San Piedro’s Japanese population continued to grow: By Pearl Harbor day, there were nearly 1,000 people of Japanese descent living on the island. After Pearl Harbor day, these families would be forced by the U.S. War Relocation Authority to move to internment camps across the West. The white islanders supported the relocation, since everything was different after the war broke out.
On Pearl Harbor Day (December 7, 1941), the Japanese Army launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. Fearing future attacks and espionage, the U.S. government forced many people of Japanese descent living in the U.S. to relocate to interment camps. The islanders’ indifference toward their Japanese neighbors’ relocation shows how significantly prejudice influences their beliefs.  The island might make a metaphorical show of equality with the Strawberry Princess, but, deep down, the residents’ biases remain strong.
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The Psychological Impact of War  Theme Icon
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Back in the courtroom, the trial’s morning recess is underway. Hatsue Miyamoto talks to her husband, Kabuo. Hatsue has visited her husband each afternoon since his arrest. Hatsue is 31 years old and elegant. She picks strawberries during the summer. During Hatsue’s childhood, a woman named Mrs. Shigemura had taught Hatsue the cultural traditions a young Japanese girl should know, such as how “to dance odori and to serve tea impeccably,” as well as the arts of flower arrangement and calligraphy. Mrs. Shigemura had praised Hatsue for her beauty.
Hatsue’s lessons with Mrs. Shigemura engrained in her a sense of duty to her Japanese culture. Still, the fact that Hatsue spends so much time in nature suggests that she longs to retreat to a realm free of her social, cultural, and familial duties.
Themes
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Mrs. Shigemura’s lessons taught Hatsue to react to hardship with studied composure. These teachings would come in handy, as hardships had followed Hatsue all her life. In her lessons, Mrs. Shigemura also emphasized the differences between Japanese and American culture, urging Hatsue “to seek union with the Greater Life,” as opposed to fearing death, as was the American way. Mrs. Shigemura taught Hatsue to be calm and composed, but Hatsue doubted her ability to be truly calm. As a child, Hatsue would linger in nature, especially among trees, and “contemplate her attraction to the world of illusions.” She found herself torn between a longing for the calmness Mrs. Shigemura encouraged and her desire for material, American pleasures like clothes and makeup. Hatsue knew that her calm, outer composure was a lie. On the inside, she remained torn between that superficial appearance and her desire for “worldly happiness.”
Like her husband, Hatsue boasts a calm, unreadable composure. Her unreadable face masks and helps her cope with the stress and hardship of living. Guterson introduces Hatsue’s lifelong tension between honoring her cultural obligations and acting on her heart’s impulses. From an early age, she was taught that “the American way” almost always contradicts the Japanese customs of her family. Hatsue escapes to the solace of trees because it allows her to escape both the American and Japanese cultures to which she is drawn. Mrs. Shigemura’s teachings cause Hatsue to feel immensely guilty about her persistent longing for the “worldly happiness” associated with the American way. 
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Hatsue’s parents arranged for her to have these lessons with Mrs. Shigemura so that Hatsue would never forget her Japenese identity. Hatsue’s parents had incurred numerous hardships to get to the United States, and so it was important for their daughter to know where she came from. Hatsue’s mother, Fujiko, had been sent to Seattle to marry Hisao, Hatsue’s father, who she falsely believed was wealthy. After a queasy voyage across the ocean, Fujiko arrived in the United States only to discover that Hisao was of modest means. The couple was very poor, and Fujiko worked long, hard hours “for the hakujin.”
Hatsue’s lessons with Mrs. Shigemura aren’t only about cultural duties—they’re connected to important familial obligations, as well. As Hatsue feels increasingly torn between American and Japanese customs, the extra duty she holds to her family, specifically, will magnify her anguish about wanting two ways of life. Hatsue’s parents feel less enthusiastic about embracing the American way of life because they both have experienced hardship and prejudice trying to build a better life for themselves working “for the hakujin.” Hakujin is the Japanese word for “white person” or “Caucasian.” It has no derogatory connotation, but it does underscore the stark divide between families like Hatsue’s and their white employers.
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After Hatsue was born, Hisao and Fujiko moved from a shoddy Beacon Hill boardinghouse to a Jackson Street boardinghouse. The Jackson Street boardinghouse was not much of an improvement, and it smelled like rotting fish and vegetables. Still, Fujiko worked there for years, cleaning. One day, Hisao heard about jobs at the National Cannery Company. The family moved to San Piedro, where they worked in the strawberry fields.
The Imada family’s early life in America was extremely difficult for many years. Guterson further illustrates the trials Hisao and Fujiko went through to assure a better life for their children in order to show why they felt so strongly about Hatsue knowing and embracing her cultural and familial roots.
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Life was hard for the Imadas on San Piedro, too. When she was seven, Hatsue and her sisters worked outside with Fujiko. Hisao sold fish. The family saved their money and eventually were able to lease a small plot of rough land. They bought a plow and cleared the land. Then they built a house on the land, and, soon after, planted their first crops.
The family’s few acres of strawberry fields came only after many years of grueling work and hardship. Later in the novel, Hatsue and Kabuo Miyamoto will bond over their mutual dream of owning and working the land. For both of them, this dream is rooted in a duty to honoring their families and their pasts. 
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Hatsue grew up outside, by the ocean and in the strawberry fields. At age 10, Hatsue made friends with Ishmael Chambers, “a neighborhood boy.” The two children would explore what lurked underwater with Ishmael’s special “glass-bottomed box.” On one of these days spent on the water, Ishmael kissed her; it was her first kiss and his.
Hatsue’s childhood interactions with nature symbolize her desire to escape from her obligations to her family. Nature offers a world free of the familial and social stresses that exist in the human world. Despite the fact that Ishmael is “a neighborhood boy” from a very different background, the two children interact in nature, away from their homes. This foreshadows the prejudiced societal pressures that will eventually complicate their relationship. The kiss also shows how early Hatsue and Ishmael began their intimate relationship and hints at their deep connection. 
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Back in the courtroom, Hatsue talks to her husband. She remarks on the snow. Kabuo notes that it reminds him of Manzanar, as snow usually does. The couple had been married in Manzanar.
Hatsue and Kabuo direct their attention away from the courtroom and towards snow and memories from long ago. Symbolically, this shift evokes their mutual skepticism about the court’s ability to conduct Kabuo’s trial in a fair, unbiased manner. Guterson repeatedly uses snow to symbolize fate or the uncontrollable—in this instance, the couple’s attention to the snow suggests their fear that the trial and Kabuo’s future is out of their hands. Manzanar was a Japanese internment camp in California during WWII. Hatsue and Kabuo’s shared history at Manzanar speaks to the persistent racial prejudice that has dictated the course of their lives.
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In a memory, Hatsue recalls this first night together. As the snow fell outside on their wedding night, the couple made love. Kabuo smelled like earth to Hatsue, and it was then that realized she wanted a life of working the fields with the man she loved. Hatsue thought of Ishmael, but she cast him quickly out of her mind. Kabuo asked Hatsue if she’d made love before, and she lied that she hadn’t. “It feels so right,” Hatsue whispered to her new husband.
Hatsue knows that Kabuo is right for her, whereas the reader will later learn that she never felt so intuitively sure of her feelings for Ishmael Chambers. Kabuo’s associations with “work” and “fields” are important to Hatsue because they remind her of her family’s dedication to working their strawberry fields. That is, Hatsue’s love for Kabuo allows her to act on her heart’s desires and to honor her family. Hatsue chooses to erase Ishmael from her mind and deny his existence to Kabuo because she has found a partner with whom she “feels so right.”
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Back in the courtroom, Hatsue observes that Kabuo has grown distant since he returned from fighting in the war, which he’d enlisted for because “there was something extra that had to be proved, a burden this particular war placed on him” by virtue of his Japanese ethnicity. Hatsue anguishes over her husband’s distance, but tries to accept that it was the war that caused it. She resigns to endure his distance, his current imprisonment, and his trial.
Like Ishmael, Kabuo’s duty as a soldier has resulted in lasting psychological trauma. Unlike Ishmael, however, Kabuo’s Japanese ancestry saddles him with “something extra that had to be proved.” Japan was the U.S.’s enemy during WWII. Kabuo felt that the war had placed “a burden” on him because he felt the need to prove his loyalty to the U.S. in the face of heightened prejudice directed at the Japanese. Hatsue resents what the war and its “burden” has done to Kabuo, but, as her Japanese upbringing has taught her to do, she endures her husband’s psychological distance with a silent composure.
Themes
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The Psychological Impact of War  Theme Icon
Duty vs. Desire Theme Icon