Snow Falling on Cedars | Study Guide

David Guterson

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Snow Falling on Cedars | Chapter 15 | Summary

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Summary

This chapter focuses on Fujiko Imada, Hatsue Miyamoto's mother, as she shepherds her daughters through the early days of internment at the Manzanar camp. The conditions at the camp are hot, dirty, and dusty, stationed in the California desert with minimal comforts; certainly far less than what the newly arrived prisoners were used to. Latrines were already full of excrement while dozens waited to use them. They are all immediately put to work cleaning the camp. Fujiko summons all her self-control to behave in a way she thinks is appropriate. This falters when her middle daughter reveals she accidentally discovered a love letter from Ishmael Chambers to Hatsue.

Fujiko's own romantic history was difficult. She traveled to the United States to marry a man she'd never met. He was supposed to be wealthy and able to care for her; in reality, he was penniless, and she had to work with him. Fujiko was furious but had no money to return home. Eventually she accepted him as her husband. For Fujiko, "love was nothing close to what she'd imagined as a girl ... it was less dramatic and far more practical." She thinks Ishmael's romantic letter is ridiculous.

When confronted, Hatsue argues she is an adult. However, she admits she had already decided to end her relationship with Ishmael. She sends Ishmael a "dear John" letter ending their relationship, which Fujiko mails. In the meantime, Kabuo Miyamotovhas been coming around to help Fujiko's family get settled. He admires Hatsue. She rejects him at first, but begins to accept his attentions, even though she still feels sad for Ishmael in her heart, knowing her letter would cause him heartache.

Analysis

In some ways Fujiko Imadavis the Japanese version of Etta Heine, Carl Heine's mother. Both follow their husbands' lead, which was common in many cultures in the early 20th century. Neither was passionately in love with her husband, and both have distinctly racist tendencies. In fairness, Fujiko has some reason to distrust white Americans at this point, while Etta has no justification for her attitude toward the Miyamotos.

In the 1940s many parents would disapprove of their child secretly dating someone of a different ethnic background. It was not until 1967 that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that interracial marriage was legal throughout the United States, in Loving v. Virginia. This landmark case helped shape traditional attitudes toward interracial dating and marriage that have forever changed cultural attitudes and also became an important legal precedent for later court cases involving marriage equality. The pre-1967 struggle to love outside of one's ethnic and cultural heritage would be particularly true for someone like Fujiko, who wants to keep her daughter safely in the Japanese way of life. Notice that David Guterson refers repeatedly to Fujiko's story: how she was tricked into coming to America to marry a man she did not even know. This history does not help her sympathize with Ishmael and Hatsue's sufferings.

At the same time, the narrator is clear Hatsue is the one who ends the relationship with Ishmael. She tells Fujiko she made her decision before she was ever confronted with Ishmael's letter. Hatsue chooses to stay Japanese, in a sense. She marries a Japanese man whose life will connect easily to her parents, instead of causing problems in her family by marrying Ishmael.

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