Qu. How does nature shape this novel?
The key way in which nature shapes this novel, is through the reoccurring theme of snow. The snow symbolises the Islanders moral debates with deciding what is right and what is wrong. This is demonstrated in the following quote-
‘When they looked out into the whiteness of the world the wind flung it sharply at their narrowed eyes and foreshortened their view of everything.’ I think this shows how the Islanders attempt to discover truth, (when they look out), only to find themselves faced with even more questions to ask themselves and no answers. In this way, snow hides the truth of the world.
I think the latter part of the quote relates to the intolerance of the Island, called the ‘Curse of the Island’. The people of the Island are small-minded and judgemental, they cannot see through the outer exterior, to the inner person. They narrow their eyes, and try to forget the rest of the world exists. In this way, I think the snow represents the Islands view of the Japanese, and the blanket of snow cannot be lifted to discover the truth, which lies underneath.
Snow can also unite the characters of the novel. This happens when Ishmael and Hatsue meet together during Chapter 22, due to Hatsue’s car breaking down in the snow. This forces Ishmael to spend time with Hatsue and remind himself of his love for Hatsue and how he ‘taught himself to forget it as best he could’. Toward the end of the chapter, Ishmael realises ‘there had been circumstances then and there were circumstances now; there were things beyond anyone’s control’. I think this perfectly sums up how snow and nature are beyond human control.
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An additional way, in which snow unites characters, is during chapter 22, when the snow falls on all the land and makes the borders of land ‘indistinguishable’. This means that the snow has made everyone equal, resulting in no prejudice or discrimination. This is demonstrated in this quote- ‘the world was one world’, as all has been combined as one due to nature. The snow shows it is more powerful than humanity, as it controls everything, this is demonstrated in this quote, ‘All human claims to the landscape were superseded, made null and void by the snow.’ This shows that no matter what humans do, they cannot change nature.
Snow can also mask events that occur in the book, such as with Hatsue and Ishmael, during the court scenes. Hatsue knows Ishmael is there, yet she chooses not to see him because she has a new life. In this scenario, the snow represents Hatsue trying to block an event out of her life because she feels guilty. The snow allows her to hide and not face Ishmael. In this case the snow is not pure and innocent, but a sign of guilt. Snow can be deceiving, it may appear wholesome and, as Ishmael says ‘beautiful’ yet it hides the truth and ultimately causes unhappiness. Berries are described as ‘pure white and lovely, but fatal to eat’ on p.140, and I think this is related to snow. This is because the snow in the novel makes life unstable, and upsets the rigid routine of the backward village.
The snow can also be isolating and remind people of bad times- when they were alone, such as the war. This is particularly true for some characters as their war injuries hurt with the coldness of the snow. However, snow can also be a reminder of the real world, as in the case of Kabuo, who sees the snow while in his cell. It reminds Kabuo that he is missing the world changing, and how he never appreciated it before.
Another way, in which nature shapes the novel, is how the extreme weather conditions affect the novel’s course of events. For example, the fog was partly responsible for the death of Carl Heine, as he lost his way; a rainstorm forced Ishmael and Hatsue into the cedar tree, and the snowstorms interrupt the Islanders usual routines. I think the weather shows that life is unpredictable and cannot be controlled; you just have to cope as best as possible. This relates to Japanese characters of the book; they cannot control their ethnicity, just learn to live with it. It relates to Kabuo, who can only sit and watch, powerless, as his fate is decided- like humans watching a storm. These, and many previous points, relate to the fight between nature and humans; weather is natural, and cannot be altered. Yet man-made events can be prevented and controlled, such as war. The irony is people try to change and prevent weather, but not war, they seem happy for war to progress.
A further way in which nature shapes the novel is by using the symbol of the cedar tree. The cedar tree is a place where Hatsue and Ishmael find sanctuary from the judgemental world. In the cedar tree, they can forget about the prejudice from the rest of the world, and talk openly about their love for one another. They can be equal, and have freedom. It is where they can hide from the rest of the world- be it from discrimination and injustice, or war. The cedar tree represents a fantasy place, which hides the fact that the real world is unfair.
An additional way in which nature shapes the novel is how it changes the characters, and their lives. The community of San Piedro rely on the nature of the Island for economy, through fishing and strawberry picking. This affects the characters, as many of them are ‘strong’ due to their constant hard work during the day. In addition, they are also strong inside, their faces described as ‘hard’. This may be due to the loneliness that they encounter through their jobs and shutting themselves off from the outside world. It also creates a divide in the people, because all the Japanese work strawberry picking on the Americans land.
Overall, nature greatly shapes the novel, with the focus on the reoccurring theme of snow. Nature symbolises many of the major themes, such as discrimination and love.
Research from- Sparknotes.com
By Hayley Sheath 12MF