Summary and Analysis
In Chapters 12 and 13, Guterson describes life on San Piedro immediately following the attack on Pearl Harbor. Ishmael and Hatsue had been carrying on a secret romance for four years, but during their senior year, before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Hatsue was beginning to verbalize to Ishmael her doubts about their liaison. Hatsue believed that her actions in this life affected future lives, and she seemed certain that she would suffer for her deceitful ways; however, Hatsue was not so distraught that she stopped seeing Ishmael.
After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the islanders of San Piedro were divided, with the majority of the Caucasians taking an "us versus them" stance. The "us," of course, were Americans, who were against the Japanese. The day after the bombing, Ishmael's father reported in two separate articles that "the island's Japanese community pledged their loyalty to the United States," and he emphasized in his editorial the need to remain calm.
This editorial closed with another major theme of Snow Falling on Cedars: "prejudice and hatred are never right and [are] never to be accepted by a just society." Yet justice, especially during wartime, is difficult at best. Arthur Chambers tried to balance the news he printed by pointing out the positive things that the members of the island's Japanese community did for the United States, and he was accused of showing favoritism. Subscribers and advertisers alike began to cancel their affiliation with the San Piedro Review, though Arthur was confident that he and the paper could survive without them.
In order to understand the attitudes and resentment of the inhabitants of San Piedro during the time of Kabuo's trial, it's imperative to see how the islanders reacted to the bombing of Pearl Harbor and how they treated their neighbors immediately after that. Their public comments, their actions, and their letters to the editor display the hostility, resentment, and fear they felt. And fear is a powerful emotion. When people are ruled by fear, reasoning with them is impossible. Reason is logical, but the only thing that will overcome an emotion like fear is a stronger emotion, like hate. Reasoning with a racist, therefore, is likewise impossible because racism isn't logical. Unfortunately, especially for the Japanese-Americans, many Americans tended to override logic with emotion, oftentimes with disturbing results.
Guterson uses snow in these chapters to describe how in the present everything is being covered and blinded. And in the time period immediately following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, most inhabitants of San Piedro were blinded by their emotions. The swirling snow in the present narrows one's vision, just as the many narrow-minded inhabitants were blanketed in fear and distrust.
eviscerated deprived of force.
boilerplate unoriginal, standard.
alder small birch trees that grow best in wet ground.
saboteurs persons destroying enemy war materials.
reconnaissance gathering information about position, strength, and movement of enemy troops.
gunny bag a bag made from a coarse, heavy hemp material.