Snow Falling on Cedars | Study Guide

David Guterson

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Snow Falling on Cedars | Chapter 14 | Summary



The flashback continues with the story of Hatsue Miyamoto and her family's internment in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor. Two FBI men arrive at Hatsue's family home to see if her family is disloyal. One FBI man is kind but the other is not. They search the entire house, taking anything related to "the old country." They arrest her father, who is sent to an internment camp, and soon all Japanese residents will follow him.

Hatsue's mother, Fujiko Imada, warns her children to be aware of their identities as Japanese people in a hakujin (white person's) world. She insists the hakujin are very different from the Japanese. Hatsue argues with her, but Fujiko tells her, "living among the hakujin has tainted you, made your soul impure." Hatsue knows, as much as she argues with her mother, she does feel separate from Ishmael Chambers and wonders if she really loves him at all. She can't tell if she is growing away from him because of her lack of strong feelings for him or because of what is happening in the world.

Ishmael makes a plan so they can write to each other while Hatsue is in the internment camp. Hatsue is uneasy, but agrees. Ishmael and Hatsue begin to kiss and touch each other. Ishmael begins to have sex with her, but Hatsue panics and says no. Ishmael stops. Hatsue apologizes and leaves him there by their secret place—their cedar tree—while Ismael is "beckoning her to come back."


David Guterson offers a nuanced view of white Americans: they are never all good or all bad. Even the FBI men are split: one is more sensitive and the other is definitely not. Hatsue Miyamoto's mother skips the nuance; she believes Japanese people are superior, a belief common to Japanese immigrants at that time. As a small country, Japan can seem extraordinarily homogenous to Americans. People are either born in Japan or they are "outsiders"—a trend that continues, to some extent, even in the 21st century. In the early 20th century, belief in Japanese superiority was literally part of the country's governing philosophy.

Hatsue's parents, both born in Japan, would grow up with these beliefs, and Fujiko Imada obviously still embraces them. Like many children of immigrant parents, Hatsue feels trapped between her parents' culture and American culture. That is a tricky balance for any teenager to navigate, but is much more complicated when the new country seems to be ready to reject you.

Ishmael Chambers and Hatsue begin to have sex, but the narrator again makes it clear Ishmael does not view Hatsue as a sexual object. He is respectful and stops his advances immediately when she asks him to. He seems mostly sad and hurt. He views sex as "like being married ... like the only kind of wedding we could ever have." But for Hatsue, it was wrong. The narrator has already informed the reader that Hatsue describes her wedding to Kabuo Miyamoto as "right" and now the reader understands why she chooses that word. She believes marrying Kabuo is right because they come from the same culture and their families reflect the same core values.

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