Snow Falling on Cedars By David Guterson Summary and Analysis Chapter 16

Once again, Ishmael's experience with a situation is contrasted with Hatsue's. Just as Hatsue spends her time during the war putting Ishmael out of her life, he spends his time hating her. His service as a marine led him to a hospital and then to an ill-planned invasion mission. Having spent the five months since Hatsue's letter arrived in an emotional hell, Ishmael now experiences a physical one, too. This is a chapter of losses for Ishmael — loss of a division, loss of an arm, and loss of a woman. Through these losses, Ishmael suffers on a variety of levels. His physical loss (his arm) and his emotional loss (his relationship with Hatsue) intertwine, leaving Ishmael scarred both literally and figuratively.

With enough details of blood and guts, Guterson fairly easily describes the physical pain; however, capturing the pain of a broken heart is a bit more difficult. Guterson achieves success, though, by allowing Ishmael to spend time sick and alone. When Ishmael is encouraged to write a final letter home, he addresses it to Hatsue and tells her how much he hates her. He never mails the letter. His anger toward her and the way that she treated him is clear, and by the end of the chapter, he refers to Hatsue as "that fucking goddamn Jap bitch."

By contrasting points of view, Guterson prevents either character — Ishmael or Hatsue — from being viewed solely in a positive or negative light. Instead, he reveals the complexity of the situation by providing insight into both characters. Perhaps neither character is to blame for the way events leading to their separation transpired, but the notion that neither is blameless for the aftermath is too pat and too simplistic. The characters don't take responsibility for their actions (or lack thereof), and by avoiding the issues and one another, they harbor feelings of hate and indifference. Avoiding an unpleasant situation won't make it go away; on the surface level, this attitude applies to Ishmael and Hatsue; on a deeper level, this attitude applies to all the Caucasians and the Japanese inhabitants of San Piedro.

Glossary

frigates sailing war vessels of medium size.

daisy cutters slang for anti-personnel bombs.

coxswain a person who steers a small boat.

seawall an embankment used to prevent the erosion of the shore.

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