David Guterson’s Snow Falling on Cedars contains a number of intersecting themes. First is the love theme between Ishmael Chambers and Hatsue Miyamoto that serves as both a bridge between the two cultural and racial groups and an example of how unbridgeable the gulf ultimately turns out to be. Second is the broader theme of community prejudice against the Japanese, which is brought to the surface by the entry of the United States into World War II. Third is the presence of a snowstorm, an event that underlies the tensions engendered by the trial of Kabuo Miyamoto.
The love affair between Ishmael and Hatsue complicates the narrative by creating a conflict of interest when Ishmael discovers the exculpating evidence. If he withholds it, and if Kabuo is convicted, then perhaps Ishmael will be able to rekindle his affection for Hatsue. Ishmael must overcome this rather pathetic state of mind to assume the mantle of his father. The love affair also provides an example of how children can transcend the prejudice of their parents. The affair also highlights differences that may prove insurmountable. In this case, Ishmael’s immaturity and Hatsue’s untenable situation—being confined at Manzanar—also play a part in the disillusion of their relationship. The love theme then works in multiple ways to inform the narrative.
Ishmael’s problems are compounded by his disability caused by war. The loss of his arm makes him less of a man,...
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