Racism in "Snow Falling on Cedars" by David Guterson Essay

Racial discrimination is a pervading social issue that spans generations and while it may not be as prevalent before, the foreignness of people from each other brings about contempt because of diversity. This is the main theme in the novel ‘Snow Falling on Cedars’ where the town of San Piedro is divided according to ethnicity and each race has deep-seated but not necessarily founded contempt of one another. The differences among people and a standing history of antagonism lead to the fear of the unknown and of what is unfamiliar with groundless animosity cultivated through time.

The word ‘Jap’ had been used during the war to identify the Japanese soldiers who looked nothing like the other European or American soldiers that fought against each other. They had been the only Asian participant during the Second World War and their physical features significantly varied from the others. They are shorter in terms of height and have smaller eyes. Japanese soldiers are known for their solemn dignity and austere disposition took as an air of arrogance or submissiveness that the word ‘Jap’ has evolved into a racial slur.

The trial elucidates the racism over Japanese and how they are obligated by an unwritten law to take the rear seats and to attend the hearing. In Chapter Seven, it was narrated that there were originally 39 Japanese who worked at the mill and the census listed them down by numbering them as Japs instead of taking their names. Then there was also the moniker ‘Jap Town’ where most of them live. They worked as farmers owned by landlords because they cannot own land because they could not become American citizens. Then the war broke and the Japanese community of the town had to be relocated. This elicited mixed reactions on the people who mostly felt “that this exiling of the Japanese was the right thing to do” (Guterson, p.69).

There was also the backstory of Ishmael and Hatsue and their short-lived love affair when they were younger. The disapproval of Fujiko in the possibility of their union also equates that there is also the racism of Japanese over the white members of society. The idea of preserving their culture by keeping the marriage within the race explains this fact. Interracial marriage is unacceptable to the Japanese in the same way that they are not openly accepted by the others despite the good qualities of the person himself. By the sole reason of his being not Japanese, Ishmael is deemed not compatible with Hatsue.

The trial of Kabuo Miyamoto for the death of Carl Heine has ignited and amplified the racism of the prevalently Caucasian town toward the Japanese people within their community. The muted racism people hold against each other was shed into a light and has almost caused a man of his freedom. People were quick to judge and the history that they have of hostility came into the forefront. Racism rendered Kabuo guilty without proof except for speculations. His innocence proved to be a commentary on people’s baseless preconceived ideas.

“Snow Falling on Cedars Notes on the Racism Themes.” BookRags. BookRags, n.d. Web. 10 Sept. 2012.
Guterson, David. Snow Falling on Cedars. London: Bloomsbury, 2009. Google Books. Web. 10 Sept. 2012.

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