In what ways does the writer develop tension and mystery in the opening chapters of Snow Falling On Cedars?
The author creates tension and mystery in many different ways during the opening chapters. The first line of the novel creates mystery straight away: ‘The accused man, Kabuo Miyamoto’, the reader is not given any indication of the charge against him or what he has been accused of and so immediately questions arise in the readers mind. It is not until the next paragraph we find what he is on trial for. Guterson cleverly withholds certain facts such as this throughout the novel to keep us interested, for example we become aware in Chapter 5 that Carl Heine’s cause of death was by drowning, however, we are also told that he had a wound on the head but not informed how or why.
Kabuo Miyamoto is described as ‘sat proudly upright with rigid grace’, ‘Kabuo’s features were smooth and angular’. This character description is of great consequence because of the author’s method of manipulating language, which poses questions to us like, why does Kabuo seem to be so proud and unmoved by the trial? Has he got something to hide? Subtle references are also used to create mystery, gill-netters are said to pass their nights in silence, which is also a metaphor for what a murderer would do.
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Also in the opening chapter we come by the first sign of Guterson’s use of pathetic fallacy through the weather and the atmosphere during the trial. It is snowing when the trial takes place and the ‘furious, wind-whipped flakes’ represent what is going on inside the courtroom and the tension, which is occurring. The bleak, gloomy weather indicates the character’s moods during the court case. It brings us closer to understanding how the characters are feeling.
We also become aware of the claustrophobia of the room through the technique in which the ambience of the courtroom is described: ‘ a place of grey-hued and bleak simplicity’, ‘a cramped gallery’. This also successfully reflects the anxiety and nervousness felt by the characters, people who are all connected differently to the case.
By Chapter 3 the focus begins to move from the court case and the events before and immediately after Carl Heine’s death, flashbacks occur and we begin to learn more about characters’ backgrounds. The reader is aware of the main outline of the plot but doesn’t quite know how the story is going to develop. Snow Falling On Cedars is a hybrid genre and from this point onwards we begin to discover how all these genres of murder mystery, love, war, courtroom drama and family human saga, each play an important part in creating ambiguity by covering all genres with elements of mystery in each.
By including such a range of themes the readers expectations are heightened because they are anticipating certain storylines to be met, for example within the theme of love, mystery is created from the relationship between Hatsue and Ishmael in that we are not sure why they are not together anymore and what has gone on between them. Obviously the main theme of the novel is murder mystery and a lot of the tension and mystery arises from the fact that we do not know who murdered Carl or even if he was actually murdered. The contrast of all these genres builds up tension and mystery to a certain point and then lowers them again.
Structure also plays a significant part in that through Guterson’s selective narration he is constantly switching between the past and the present and the opening chapters all begin in the present, the courtroom, and then switch back to a character thinking in retrospect to events before the trial. Learning about characters’ backgrounds may point out incidents to us that would give, say Kabuo a motive for murdering Carl. Horace Whaley points out in Chapter 5 that the wound to Carl’s head could have been made through kendo-stick fighting, a Japanese art. Clear, meticulous description of the ‘deceased body’ (as Horace imagines it) is effective in making it sound like the author knows what he’s talking about and graphic details such as:
‘The skin had split open, and from the laceration of the scalp a tiny strand of pink brain material protruded.’ shock the reader with disgust and give a sense of mystery as to how this happened.
Each of the technique’s discussed in the opening chapters of Snow Falling On Cedars are equally crucial and successful for Guterson to create tension and mystery.