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Conflicting Perspectives Essay

Composers are able to evoke in the audience certain reactions to characters or events in their texts by presenting conflicting perspectives on different issues through the manipulation of the language forms and features of their medium, often communicating their own ideas about issues in question, which results in the creation of meaning within their texts. (?). David Guterson in his 1995 novel Snow Falling on Cedars (Snow) and Henry Bean in his 2001 film The Believer (Believer) demonstrate conscious choices made regarding structure and techniques in the construction of their texts in order to represent conflicting perspectives exploring ideas on racial prejudice and hatred and cultural contrasts and thus engage the audience.

Composers can examine racial/religious prejudice brought on by war by using form specific techniques to present conflicting perspectives on the same event, designed to incite certain audience responses. Guterson, in Snow, purposely presents conflicting perspectives between Arthur Chambers and Hatsue and other members of the white community on San Piedro, particularly Etta Heine, in order to draw sympathy for the treatment of the Japanese after Pearl Harbour is bombed. Arthur is empathetic towards them, saying in his local paper the San Piedro Review, “… those of Japanese descent on this island are not responsible for the tragedy at Pearl Harbour. Make no mistake about it.” The high modality language and short, direct sentences used by Guterson highlights Arthur’s deeply-held opinion of the innocence of the Japanese on the island. In support of Arthur’s argument, Hatsue, through the narrative’s non-linear structure, recalls her pain and confusion at the treatment of her people, saying, “It just isn’t fair – it’s not fair. How could they do this to us, just like that?” The emotive appeal in addition to Arthur’s article triggers audience support of the Japanese community. Guterson, however, also presents the contrasting racial hatred of the white islanders towards the Japanese. Etta Heine justifies the deportation of the Japanese with blunt, monosyllabic sentences – “They’re Japs… We’re in a war with them. We can’t have spies around.” The use of the derogative term
“Japs” and the distinct differentiation between “them”, the Japanese, and “we”, the white people, illustrates her bigoted hatred of the Japanese. Through the conflicting perspectives of Etta against Arthur and Hatsue, Guterson sways the audience to feel for the ill treatment of the Japanese, and shows them his own opinion on the negative effect of racism in wartime on the perceptions and conduct towards certain groups.

Conflicting perspectives are established by Bean in Believer between Daniel, a neo-Nazi who is paradoxically a Jew himself, and a number of Holocaust survivors pertaining to the strength of their actions during WWII which aims to convey a pro-Jewish sentiment to audiences. At a sensitivity training session, Danny is enraged at a Jewish man’s lack of action while watching his son being murdered by a Nazi during the Holocaust. Rapidly cutting over-the-shoulder shots between Danny and the Jews indicate their opposing views. A close-up of Danny when he is asked by the Jews what he would have done in the situation shows his contempt and incredulous disbelief of the Jews’ weakness as he replies “Not what he did. Just stand there and watch?” Bean immediately employs a close-up reaction shot of the female Jew who rebuts with, “How do you know? You’ve never been tested like he has. Here in his rich, safe, stupid country it is so easy to imagine oneself a hero.” The personal address through 2nd person and the accumulation of adjectives to build a negative image of America strongly opposes Danny’s prejudiced conviction that Jews are pathetic, and also appeals to audiences the idea that religious prejudice towards Jews is unjustified. As Guterson does in Snow, conflicting perspectives are represented by Bean in order to sway his audience to respond negatively to unfounded sentiments of prejudice.

Conflicting perspectives between characters can be used by composers to control the way in which an audience perceives them by exploring the cultural clashes that exist in the text as a reflection of societal (or social?) behaviour. In Snow, Guterson presents conflicting perspectives between Kabuo and the jury during his murder trial. In the opening chapter, a vivid description of Kabuo’s posture and expression is given from the jury’s perspective; he is shown as “proudly upright… rigid… detached.” This initial portrait portrait of Kabuo makes him suspicious not only to the jury
but also to the audience, as Hatsue tells Kabuo using a simile that he “looks like one of Tojo’s soldiers.” However, Guterson, through the novel’s non-linear structure, refutes this perspective by explaining Kabuo’s behaviour to the audience via a flashback. Through his father’s teachings that “the greater the composure, the more revealed one was”, the audience learns the reason behind Kabuo’s unemotional stance. Third person omniscient allows the audience to sympathise with Kabuo’s emotive explanation that “he sat upright in the hope that his desperate composure might reflect the shape of his soul.” Guterson, through conflicting perspectives, influences his audience to understand Kabuo and the impact of contrasting cultural values on the perception of an individual.

In Believer, Bean likewise shows contrasting opinions between Danny, who cannot fully repress his secret Jewish identity, and his anti-Semitic ‘skinhead’ friends to create audience sympathy for Danny’s inner struggles with the opposing aspects of his identity. When Danny and his friends break into a synagogue, Daniel shows a surprising respect for his religion which clashes with those of the other neo-Nazis. This directly conflicts with Danny’s character established at the film’s opening, when he violently beats up a Jew for no apparent reason. Wearing a brown shirt symbolising the Nazi SA (brown-shirts), Danny’s dark costuming contrasts with the light coloured one of his Jewish victim, highlighting the evil in his nature. Bean, however, challenges the audience’s view of Danny in order to allow them to understand his conflicting identities. In one frame, Danny is in the foreground walking down an aisle, which is juxtaposed with the other Nazis vandalising the synagogue. Their loud, raucous whooping contrasts to that of Danny’s respectful silence, highlighting their different treatments of the Jewish culture. When one of the Nazis tears up a Torah, a sacred Jewish text, after much opposition from Danny, a reaction shot of him shows sadness and pain accompanied by melancholy music, underlining Danny’s unspoken deference for Judaism. Bean’s portrayal of conflicting perspectives on Jewish culture incites the audience to respond more sympathetically towards Danny, and to understand that his veneer is a product of cultural differences in his society.

The composers in Snow and Believer have effectively utilised techniques within their medium to represent conflicting perspectives about racial or religious prejudice and cultural differences in order to provoke certain audience responses to the characters, events or situations in their story. This includes reactions of sympathy for a certain perspective or disbelief and even dislike of opposing perspectives. In this way, the composers connect to the audience and generate meaning within their texts.

In Snow, Hatsue is confined by the traditions of her culture, as shown when her mother Fujiko says to her “don’t allow living among the hakujin to become living intertwined with them. Your soul will decay… rot and go sour.” The change in language to refer to the Americans as hakujin and the emotive metaphor of Hatsue’s breakdown of purity highlights Fujiko’s dislike of American culture. This

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