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  • Level: GCSE
  • Subject: English
  • Essay length: 1088 words

'The death of a fisherman in an Island community can test present passions and unearth old prejudices

Extracts from this essay...


'In a universe where decay is inevitable, suffering and death come unexpectedly, war and social divisions are human traditions, personal ethics are humankind's saving grace.' Discuss this thesis with particular emphasis on the decisions taken by and the behaviour and operation on the consciences of Kabuo, Hatsue and Ishmael. The novel Snow Falling on Cedars, written by David Guterson, revolves around a racially charged court case involving an innocent Japanese man accused of the murder of a German fisherman. The author explores the human traditions of war and social division and the inevitability of decay, suffering and death, using the murder trial of Kabuo Miyamoto as a focal point. Guterson investigates the way in which personal ethics can transcend the conspiring effects of 'fate, coincidence and accident'1 through the behaviour and disposition of the three main characters of the novel, Ishmael, Hatsue and Kabuo. Kabuo's trial is a continuation of the white community's conflict with its Japanese neighbours. Prejudice is prevalent on San Piedro Island where whites harbour resentment and hostility towards the Japanese 'aliens'2, but hypocritically profit from the Japanese-American residents' discipline and hard work.


Carl Heine dies because a freighter passes by his fishing boat when he is atop his mast, at his most vulnerable. Ishmael loses his arm to the war and cancer claims the life of Arthur Chambers. The courthouse embodies inevitable decay, which parallels with the 'slow and deliberate geriatric,' 10 Nels Gudmundsson. Guterson portrays the way in which cruel and accidental incidents dominate the universe. The wild storm outside the courtroom is a symbol for the uncontrollable events that affect human lives. The characters in the novel continuously battle to exert their own will opposite such indifferent and circumstantial forces. The challenge facing society Guterson suggests, is learning to differentiate between what humans can and cannot control. This struggle includes learning to accept what cannot be changed. Ishmael must accept that his arm has been lost in the war and that Hatsue does not love him. Kabuo must 'accept that the mountain of his violent sins was too large to climb'11 and that 'his suffering inevitably would multiply'12.


Snowfall represents this, as the blanket of snow masks contrasting cultures and race. David Guterson's Snow Falling on Cedars is essentially about the human condition. San Piedro Island is depicted as a microcosm of the world of humankind, reflecting on ubiquitous thoughts and feelings felt by all of humanity. The author depicts the inevitability of decay, suffering and death, and describes the everlasting traditions of war and prejudice. The thoughts and actions of Ishmael, Hatsue and Kabuo combine to illustrate that 'accident ruled every corner of the universe except the chambers of the human heart.'16 Word Count- 993 words 1Guterson, David, Snow Falling on Cedars, 1994, pp 367 2 Ibid., pp 107 3 " " pp 37 4 " " pp 135 5 " " pp 179 6 " " pp 75 7 " " pp 367 8 " " pp 84 9 " " pp 34 10 Guterson, David, Snow Falling on Cedars, 1994, pp 17 11 Ibid., pp 148 12 " " pp 148 13 " " pp 179 14 " " pp 368 15 " " pp 353 16 Guterson, David, Snow Falling on Cedars, 1994, pp 404

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