Snow Falling on Cedars


David Guterson

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Themes and Colors
Racism and Prejudice Theme Icon
The Psychological Impact of War  Theme Icon
Chance vs. Choice Theme Icon
Facts vs. Truth Theme Icon
Duty vs. Desire Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Snow Falling on Cedars, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Racism and Prejudice

Snow Falling on Cedars takes place before, during, and after World War II on the fictional island of San Piedro off the coast of Washington in the United States. During this time, Japan’s alignment with Nazi Germany resulted in a tremendous amount of prejudice within the U.S. against its Japanese population. The bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese military in 1941 escalated these existing racial tensions. Fearing espionage and the possibility of future attacks…

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The Psychological Impact of War

Guterson’s depiction of wartime violence in Snow Falling on Cedars isn’t limited to the confines of the battlefield; on the contrary, the novel’s characters who fought in World War II feel the psychological effects of the war from a distance and long after armistice has been declared. Ishmael Chambers, San Piedro’s only journalist and the book’s protagonist, feels perpetually alienated and embittered by the arm he lost in battle; Kabuo Miyamoto, the fisherman…

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Chance vs. Choice

Many of Snow Falling on Cedars’s characters find themselves frustrated and at the mercy of forces that are beyond their control. Ishmael is embittered by the arm he lost in the war and by his inability to win the heart of Hatsue Miyamoto, Kabuo’s current wife and Ishmael’s ex-girlfriend from adolescence whom he’s still in love with. Meanwhile, Kabuo Miyamoto believes his wrongful imprisonment is fate’s way of punishing him for the…

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Facts vs. Truth

So much of Snow Falling on Cedars centers around a quest for the truth. The jury of San Piedro undertakes one such quest when they are tasked with determining whether Kabuo Miyamoto is innocent or guilty of Carl Heine’s murder. Throughout the novel, Guterson investigates the ways that facts may be interpreted differently depending on the truth people want to believe, given their various prejudices and personal motives. In the novel, Guterson argues that…

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Duty vs. Desire

The struggle to choose between one’s sense of duty and one’s desires is a central theme of Snow Falling on Cedars. While most characters eventually accept the necessity of honoring duty over desire, they arrive at this conclusion on vastly different terms. Often, marginalized characters recognize their obligation to duty far sooner than those of a privileged racial identity. The opposite ways Hatsue Miyamoto and Ishmael Chambers reflect on their secret relationship illustrates this…

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