Snow—and more specifically, the snowstorm that unfolds over the course of Kabuo Miyamoto’s murder trial—represents all that is beyond the ability of humans to control. It also brings to light the distinction humans must make between the things they can (and should) change in life, and the things they have no ability to change. In other words, snow evokes the conflict between choice (things one can control) and chance (things that are beyond one’s control) that so many characters grapple with throughout the novel. Snow Falling on Cedars contains multiple references to the storm’s uncontrollable nature. One such reference comes from Judge Fielding’s final remark to the jury before they begin their deliberations: “The storm […] is beyond our control, but the outcome of this trial is not.” In his remark, Fielding reminds the jury that it’s the choices they make that will determine the outcome of Kabuo’s trial—not the random forces of the universe that governs the snowstorm. Throughout the novel, Guterson evokes snow or the snowstorm to differentiate between the things humans can control and the things they cannot, and the task of determining over which forces they have the ability to exercise control and agency.
Snow Quotes in Snow Falling on Cedars
“I’m not talking about the whole universe,” cut in Hatsue. “I’m talking about people—the sheriff, that prosecutor, the judge, you. People who can do things because they run newspapers or arrest people or convict them or decide about their lives. People don’t have to be unfair, do they? That isn’t just part of things, when people are unfair to somebody.”
The citizens in the gallery were reminded of photographs they had seen of Japanese soldiers. The man before them was noble in appearance, and the shadows played across the planes of his face in a way that made their angles harden […]. He was, they decided, not like them at all, and the detached and aloof manner in which he watched the snowfall made this palpable and self-evident.
“The storm,” said the judge, “is beyond our control, but the outcome of this trial is not. The outcome of this trial is up to you now. You may adjourn and begin your deliberations.”
“There are things in this universe that we cannot control, and then there are the things we can. Your task as you deliberate together on these proceedings is to ensure that you do nothing to yield to a universe in which things go awry by happenstance. Let fate, coincidence, and accident conspire; human beings must act on reason.”