How does Guterson present the prejudice and discrimination against the Japanese Americans in chapter 1-15 of Snow Falling on Cedars.
This book shows a great difference between cultures on the island of San Piedro. To start with the island is a very cosmopolitan island with its residents all from different backgrounds and countries, Japan, England, Germany, Spain and Denmark to name a few. We can tell this from the long lists of shops and their owners on page three.
Chapter one tells us more about San Piedro. It tells us of the great beauty of the island. The “solitary fields and vales of alfalfa”, “careless roads” and the animals. It also tells us more about the residents. It says that they are close knit, a lot are deeply religious, they are respectful and are of limited means. The island in very quiet and so the trial is a very big event for them, “San Piedro generally lay clear of violence”. They also seem serious minded and conservative and traditional in their way of thinking.
With the story being set after the Second World War and the bombing of Pearl Harbour the people of Japanese origin are experiencing the most discrimination on the island. In chapter four there is a scene with the fishermen at Amity Harbour. When they are talking about the accused man – Kabuo Miyamoto – also a fisherman, Dale Middleton referred to him as Miyamoto, not his first name. He then goes on to call all Japanese “suckers” and says “Never could tell them guys apart”. The term “Jap” is used throughout the book to refer to the Japanese. This is very insulting and sounds quite racist and rude. The first time this is used is by fellow fisherman William Gjovaag. This is the first real indicator in the book of the Japanese status on the island.
Ishmael Chambers is the islands reporter and he is of Irish and Scottish descent. His function in the book is to be the person who experiences an inter-cultural relationship with a Japanese American girl. He isn’t a racist and his job as journalist is to give a fair view in the paper. He can’t be seen as discriminating in the paper. We learn more about this relationship as we read into the book.
When Horace Whaley – the coroner and the local G.P. – sees Carl’s injury on his head he speculates straight away. He says of Sheriff Art Moran “he ought to start looking for a Jap with a bloody gun butt – a right-handed Jap to be precise”. He suggested all this from one wound in Carl’s skull, and instantly thinks it was a “Jap”. We learn from chapter five that Whaley is a war veteran and he feel bitter about the Japanese and this causes him to discriminate without any proof that it was a “Jap” to blame for the wound. Whaley wouldn’t say any of this in court, under oath, because he had no strong evidence, but he would speculate if he didn’t have to back it up.
In chapter seven we learn that the Japanese people who are attending the trial sat at the back of the of the court room it says that they didn’t have to sit at there but did so because “San Piedro required it of them without calling it a law”. The chapter then continues to talk about the racism inflicted on the Japanese in the work place. They weren’t referred to by their Christian names, but by numbers or names that the census taker decided for them, such as; “Jap Number 1” or “Dwarf Jap”. This was very racist and disrespectful for them, aswell as embarassing and hurtful. We pity this verbal abuse. They were given the worst, most dangerous jobs.
As if they were so insignificant it didn’t matter if they got injured. If this wasn’t bad enough the Japanese weren’t even paid the same as the other workers. They were made to sleep in barns and were treated like animals. They were on the same level as the Red Indians and treated with same amount of disrespect. Then in 1942 the government deported all of the Japanese workers out of San Piedro because of the start of the Second World War, they were seen as a threat or the “enemy”. Even though they were natives, it was thought that they could be spies for he Japanese government, and were therefore deported.
Although many of the islanders were racist towards the Japanese some of the Japanese had their own views about the white people. To contrast Mrs. Shigemura taught Hatsue that white men were “dangerous egomaniacs” and that they had “fantasises” about Japanese girls and that it “distorted their sex drives”. Hatsue should “marry a boy of her own kind whose heart is strong and good”.This shows us that all Japanese people don’t take the abuse. They practice their views like the white racists.
The book carries a lot of detail about the Second World War and has many descriptions and feelings during and after the war. Also in this chapter we learn about Kabuo, his Buddhism and beliefs. These beliefs say that everything has a soul and shouldn’t be harmed and so he feels he carries the burden of war. The Americans didn’t think about, or take into consideration the fact that the Japanese Americans would be going out to fight their own kind, people from their homeland. Kabuo feels enormous guilt about this and carried it through out his whole life.
Carl’s mother, Etta is asked to give evidence for the prosecution in chapter nine. She is a farmer’s daughter who was brought up in South Germany and she is very hardworking and proud. From the evidence she presented in court we feel she isn’t emotional in any way and that her traditional views make her seem set in her ways. It also becomes apparent that she is extremely racist and feels that the Japanese are below her. She talks about her husband – who doesn’t share her racist views – and Kabou’s father and about how they had an agreement, when her husband died she totally ignored the agreement, which is what she wanted to do in the first place.
Carl was like his father in that he wasn’t racist either, he was friends with Kabuo and worried about them and their safety when they are told top leave the country. He relates to them and sees them as individuals rather than one awful race, like Etta. Carl’s and his mother’s views sometimes clashed. For example when he brought the fishing rod home that Kabuo gave him, she told him to take it back. Etta never gave Zanichi- Kabuo’s father – and his family a chance and she always talked down to him, even though he was constantly polite. This highlights the contrast between the two characters well and shows Etta to be old, bitter and twisted and very close-minded.
When Etta tells the court about her and Kabuo’s conversation in chapter ten it emphasise Etta’s cold hearted, selfish, pathetic ways. She says that Kabuo has a “mean face”. She doesn’t realise that this is what the Japanese look like, and that it is impossible to read their faces. Yet she doesn’t want to learn or listen either way. Etta’s character conveys racism very clearly and depicts how low, hurtful and quite petty some of the islanders actually are. We see how these attitudes effect the Japanese and how they cause problems and conflict, yet these people feel that it is their right to act this way toward them.
A description of Pearl Harbour is given in chapter thirteen. It also tells us of what happens to the Japanese after and how they are discriminated against. Their bank accounts were stopped because there is a slight chance that they may be traitors. Also in chapter thirteen we learn more about Arthur Chambers, like his son he isn’t a racist at all and is a friend to the Japanese. He feels confusion when he hears the story of the bombing and doesn’t know what to print in his paper, because he doesn’t want to support or defend the actions of either the Americans or the Japanese. Instead he prints stories of Japanese contribution to the community. He is a balanced, stable character and isn’t racist in any way and therefore contradicts other characters in the book such as Etta and Horace.
We learnt that Ishmael wasn’t racist right at the start of the book and here we start to find out why. Ishmael had his first relationship with Hatsue Imada who is Japanese. To Hatsue when she was growing up her relationship with Ishmael felt young, innocent and fun. They both enjoyed each other’s company and most of all liked each other. They found sanctuary in a hollowed out Cedar Tree in the woods earlier on in the book. There they were hidden away from the world and weren’t effected by anything going on in the outside.
There they could be themselves and it wouldn’t matter that their love for each other was forbidden. Now in chapter thirteen the fortress of the cedar tree start to fall apart. The war starts it and now the fact that their countries are against each other upsets Hatsue and she realises that they have to stop meeting, especially as the relationship is starting to get sexual. Ishmael doesn’t see it that way he is naive and doesn’t see the problem as clearly as Hatsue as she starts to feel she is deceiving her parents.
The F.B.I search on the Imada’s property takes place in chapter fourteen. They come at night for the search. This instantly suggests they don’t have the decency to come during the day they arrive at night to cause upset and grief. The family is referred to as the “enemy” and “aliens” which misplaces them from the San Piedro community instantly. The men take away guns, dynamite and swords; they say that they are violent weapons and don’t listen when they tell them that they are only used to assist them with farming the land.
The big men also take cultural objects, like a flute, some music and hatsue’s scrapbook. This is unjust and they are abusing their authority and their warrant. ThEy root through their draws and rummage in their underwear, this is embarrassing and very disrespectful. One of the officers deliberately says Hisao’s name incorrectly, this is very rude and must be frustrating because he said it wrong even when corrected. When the men unjustly arrest him they try to justify it as a sacrifice, even though none of this mess was their fault.
Everything is taken away from the Japanese and they are then sent away to camps. The baseball team lost its best players and this saddened many people so they dedicated the match to them. This makes us realise that most people in San Piedro don’t want them to leave.
Hatsue and her mother – Fujiko have a conversation about the discrimination she has been suffering or that she will suffer later in life, Fujiko is a bias character because she has suspicions about all white people and she has a very pessimistic outlook. She tells her how she and Hatsue’s father were embarrassingly poor yet they got through it with dignity. She explained about how she feels invisible to the whites of the island and that she was and is constantly ignored, but they should all except this because that was how it was and nothing was going to change. She tells Hatsue that the Japanese are worthless to the whites and their value is like “dust in a strong wind”.
The journey to Manzanar is discussed in chapter fifteen. There is no comfort and they are treated like animals and we feel for these people because they don’t know the outcome of their fate, but they had to conform to the rules of the American Government. Fujiko tries to show she is strong by suffering inwardly. The fact Manzanar is a desert we know there will be no escape and the hostile, barren, hot landscape will be a total contrast to San Piedro. Also in this chapter Fujiko finds out about Hatsue and Ishmael’s relationship. This is quite hypocritical because she talks to Hatsue about how white always discriminate against them but here a white person is being kind and loving to her daughter and she gets so upset. This is quite a contrast and shows that the Japanese can be just as bad at discriminating.
In these fifteen chapters we see the suffering of the Japanese at the hands of the white islanders. The Japanese could not help many of the reasons at all and a minority of Japanese Americas punished for a war between the country they currently live in and the country they originated from. We pity the Japanese throughout and understand why some of them are suspicious. Some of the islanders are constantly hateful, spiteful and rude, with no respect for their fellow human beings. Whereas others are polite and kind and treat them as they would anyone else. Guterson conveys this pity in many of the nasty comments made by the whit islanders. Like the term “Jap” and many of the awful things they were subject to at work. Even though a couple of the Japanese characters don’t like whites. Much of the pity in the book is directed at the Japanese Americans.
Courtney from Study Moose
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