Snow Falling on Cedars
What is the significance of the island setting and the weather in Snow falling on Cedars”? How does Guterson use the environment in which the novel is set to deepen our understanding of events?
“Snow falling on cedars” is placed in the proximity of an insulated, isolated island off the coast of America. It is this seclusion that enhances the communal intimacy and inevitably the polarisation after the events of the war, especially the destruction of Pearl Harbour. The weather acts as a foundation, representing the change, alienation and blindness throughout the novel.
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The island, San Piedro, is self-sufficient with all of the islanders maintaining their lives by working for themselves. It shows the combination of the “closeness” of the community in contrast with the animosity and isolation that remains through judgment between races. It is the isolation of the island that is a metaphor for the isolation of the communities.
“Snow fell that morning” on the first day of the trial, which is significant as the snow symbolises the duration of the trial. It is ambiguous in its representation as it is often described as “beautiful” and “rare” and “precious”, allowing an insight to Ismaels’ memory of his childhood with Hatsue but also gains the opposite interpretation of destruction through the “ferocious” weather overturning the cars, which represents the negative and positve sides of all the situations, perceptions and relationships in San Piedro.
The cedar tree is a prominent part of the novel and the relationship between Hastsue and Ishmael as it provides security and protection from societies prejudice. The tree provides multiple fond memories for Ishmael as it is where his relationship with Hatsue was first established and continued to evolve. However this tree is a fantasy for the reality in which they wish to happen, portrayed through the “hollow” part of the tree. For what they want to grasp is not within their reach and although the isolation enables them to cocoon themselves in the belief that the relationship can be fulfilled to the extent that Ishmael desires, it becomes apparent through societies ignorance and Hatsues’ imprisonment of guilt that the dream will never be claimed as shown through the snow concealing the opening later on in the novel.
Snow makes everything “one world” and makes everything equal, like the description of the sea being “just one ocean” however although the sea “mixes underneath” on the outside perspective the differences remain prominent and “wrong”.
The fog is also significant as it obstructs your senses of seeing and hearing, which reflects the ignorance by the community of San Piedro of the trial and the distinction between right and wrong.
Guterson uses the weather as a symbolic representation of the inevitable and fate, much like the fog with Carl Heines’ death and with the isolation, destruction and blindness that it brings. The story represents how humanity are at the mercy of nature and the fate that it pushes onto them, for example Hatsue has her car overturned which runs parallel to the helplessness that exists for Kabuo and the trial. The snowstorm and the weather provide pathetic fallacy for the characters whilst presenting an unavoidable disruptions in San Piedro, which is metaphorical for the interruptions in the citizens lives.
“Everyone wished unconsciously that it would come to an end and grant them some peace” this is not only a description of the weather but a insight into the guilt and conscience that the islanders are contaminated by, which is why on the last day of the trial the “wind whipped” weather ceases.