How does Snow in August reflect race relations in the United States at the time of the novel?
Let us remember that the world in which the central protagonist finds himself eerily echoes the concerns of the wider world and in particular the way that anti-Semitism is on the rise. Let us remember that Michael, Jimmy and Sonny act as a kind of symbol of the mixed ethnicity of Brooklyn's immigrant population. However, there awareness of race is crystalised one day when they witness the robbery and abuse of an old Jewish man who is beaten within an inch of his life. This is shown to symbolise the wider divisions in Europe because of the war, as Rabbi Hirsch's synagogue and then Michael's appartment, are sullied by swastikas. Racial tensions are rising and even a trip to see a baseball match is shown to be deeply problematic when goons in the stands shout out anti-semitic remarks. Brooklyn is presented as a kind of microcosm of the world, and the racial tensions that are increasing as a result of the conflict in Europe impact the different social groups more and more in this community.
Pete Hamill clearly shows how the persecution of Jews during Nazi Germany left the world fragmented and scared. As the story unfolds, the young hero, Michael Devlin, turns to the lethal secrets of the Kabbalah to try to keep the world around him from turning into a world ruled by Frankie McCarthy's criminality, racism and sadism.
Hamill shares with the reader his fascination with Jackie Robinson's struggle both to hit major league pitching and to withstand the racism of his opponents and team-mates. Afraid of getting involved and then severely punished people were for the most part unwilling to stand up for their fellow man.
The novel depicts that even in bad times, good sentiments do exist. The scenes of Michael and Rabbi Hirsch sharing language, baseball and the Kabbalah help unfold the beauty of pre-war Europe. The novel would have been too optimistic to depict how some friends may have come to their defence, since the real world in those days was quite different. A gang called the Falcons and their vicious tough, leader, Frankie McCarthy who hates the Jews and the Blacks threatens to destroy the lives of the Rabbi, the boy and his mother, he inflicts serious beatings on the two lead characters leaving them with threats of worse consequences to come. For many years following the war those who escaped the mass killing lived to tell the horrors and Rabbi Hirsch was willing to share these stories with Michael and the fear could still be felt in his words. In Snow in August the malevolent forces of racism and prejudice still had a strong foothold in America.