Snow Falling on Cedars – The Poisons of Racism Not all poisons are as obvious: they don’t come with warning labels. That is just the case with racism. Snow Falling on Cedars, a novel written by Davis Guterson, discusses the racial prejudices on San Piedro Island during the 1950s. The major conflict of race in the novel Snow Falling on Cedars can be seen through other conflicts among the characters. Racial prejudice can be seen through Kabuo’s trail, in the relationship between Hatsue and Ishmael, and through the land tensions between the Miyamoto and the Heine family.
Kabuo Miyamoto’s trail from start to finish displays the racial conflicts in this novel. The case starts with Kabuo being convicted for the murder of Carl Heine Junior. This happens because the coroner, Horace Whaley, says the wound on Carl’s head looks like ones that he had seen inflicted on men by the Japanese in the World War Two. “`Stick fighting,” Horace explained. `Japs are trained in it from when they’re kids. How to kill with sticks (Guterson 58). ‘” The assumption that the wound was made by Kabuo just because he is Japanese shows how racially founded the investigation of the murder was.
The testimony of Sergeant Victor Maples thickens the racial poison in the trail. Sergeant Maples and Kabuo met in basic training during World War Two. He was humiliated when Kabuo beat him in a fighting match (282-3). From this experience Maples started to gain a prejudice against Japanese and a negative view towards Kabuo. With this view he testified that, “No, it would not surprise … [me] to hear that Kabuo Miyamoto had killed a man with a fishing gaff. He was highly capable of such a deed (285). ” Also in the testimony of Mrs.
Heine she constantly refers to the Japanese Americans as “them” and “they (117-142). ” This again shows the unfounded racial prejudices and conflicts flowing through Guterson’s work. Apart from the trail we can see racial conflicts in the relationship of Ishmael and Hatsue. Ishmael and Hatsue started off as child playing on the beach together (95-99), but their relationship developed as they grew. They started meeting secretly in a hollow cedar tree (110). In one conversation they had there they said: “Do you think this is wrong? she [Hatsue] asked. “Other people do,” said Ishmael. “Your friends would,” he added. “And your parents. ” “So would yours,” and Hatsue. “So would your mother and father. ” “Your father’d probably kill me with a machete. He’d slice me into little pieces (112). ” They went on meeting in the cedar tree for months, but eventually their parents discovered what was going on and broke up the relationship (229). Hatsue’s mother, Fujiko, she told her to, “`Put this hakujin boy away now (231). ” The use of the word hakujin to describe Ishmael and the attitude of the parents towards the integrated relationship manifest the racial conflicts in this novel. The conflict of race is also visible in the land tensions between the Miyamoto and Heine family. The conflict begins when Mr. Heine decides to sell seven acres of his land to Mr. Miyamoto, against his wife’s will (121). But Mr. Heine dies before all the land is paid for (124). Taking advantage of her husband’s death, she sells the land to a white man instead (133). When Kabuo (Mr.
Miyamoto’s son) discovers what happened he approaches Mrs. Heine, but she will not reconsider. The land now belongs to a white man, not a “Jap. ” Finding confronting Mrs. Heine to be unrewarding, Kabuo tries to speak to her son Carl. He and Carl had been childhood friends, until Mrs. Heine and World War Two separated them (133). The racial conflict over the land is solved when the two have this conversation: “Hell,” said Carl. “I’m not saying what I mean. Look, god-damn-it, I’m sorry, okay? I’m sorry over this whole damn business.
I’d a been around, it wouldn’t of happened how it did. My mother pulled it off, I was out at sea fighting you god-damn Jap sons a-” “I’m an American,” Kabuo cut in. “Just like you or anybody. Am I calling you a Nazi, you big Nazi bastard? I killed men who looked just like you-pig-fed German bastards. I’ve got their blood on my soul, Carl, and it doesn’t wash off very easily. So don’t you talk to me about Japs, you big Nazi son of a bitch (404). ” Carl then realizes how race had been affecting him for years.
As a matter of fact, racism played a big role in the novel. It has affected the life of Hatsue, Ishmael, Kabuo and their families, and it is responsible for the loss of Kabuo’s seven acres of strawberry land, and made Kabuo being accused of the murder of Carl Heine. If the people were not racist, things would not have happened as the way that they did. The murder trail of Kabuo would have never taken place. Hatuse and Ishmael would have been a happy couple together. And as for Kabuo himself, he would have inherited the strawberry field and continue on to be farmer just like his father Childhood friendships broken, disputations carrying from father to son. This poisoning has to end. Snow Falling on Cedars shows us the stifling affects racial conflicts can have on American society. Race affects all types of people: from coroners to sergeants. The relationship between Hatsue and Ishmael shows that the children of this generation are slowly being poisoned by racism’s cankering values. Racism’s icy acids eat away at pieces of society and leave it in disastrous havoc. Hopefully we can learn the affects of racism from this novel before we too are poisoned.