The development of the story or the situation in Snow Falling on Cedars fulfills many of the conventions of the classical detective story more importantly because the central element for creating tension in the novel is the alleged crime. The story develops from the opening of the trial to the day when the jurors are supposed to announce their verdict as the author makes frequent use of flashbacks to fill in more information about the characters and the history of the island community. Through these flashbacks, we are also introduced to a romantic subplot involving Ishmael Chambers who plays, the journalist and Hatsue, wife to Kabuo (Bass, 20).
As far as the pattern of action is concerned, the central factors are the trial itself and the choices Ishmael makes when he tries to find out more about the alleged murder through his role as the investigator or the detective. The climax in the novel occurs when Ishmael decides to reveal what he has found out about a freighter that came so close to Carl Heine’s boat making the relationship between the characters in Snow Falling on Cedars, the conventional in role play.
By the same token, the roles are reversed for the alleged victims of the story too as the character who turns out to be more of a criminal than a victim is Carl Heine’s mother, Etta as she denied Kabuo Miyamoto the right to buy the piece of land which he was morally entitled to, and instead sold it to a farmer named Ole Jurgensen, Kabuo’s father, Zenhichi Miyamoto had missed the last two out of sixteen payments for the land, but the reason was that he and his family had been sent off to a relocation camp for Japanese Americans in March 1942, for instance, Kabuo’s father could not sign the contract himself because several western states had passed “alien land laws” denying non-citizens the right to own land.6 In 1922 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Japanese immigrants could not become naturalized American citizens (Bass, 20).
This meant that none of the first-generation Japanese Americans, or Issei, were American citizens. Kabuo, on the other hand, was an American citizen because he was a second-generation Japanese American, or Nisei, born in the United States and would eligibly sign the contract after attaining the age of 20 in September 1942but on his return to sign the contract in 1945 he found out that Etta Heine had sold the land after her husband died in 1944 (McKay, 648).
The unfairness lies in the fact that innocent and defenseless Japanese Americans were uprooted and imprisoned against their will as they had little or no political influence in the western states, there was very little they could do to let their voices be heard in Washington, D.C. Hawaii had not yet become a state, the islands were strategically more important for the war effort in the Pacific Ocean than the West Coast was. Indeed the Japanese Americans were viewed with suspicion, but removing them would have been hazardous to local industry and the war effort (McKay, 647).
There is an effort the author takes for us to know so little about one another across racial and ethnic groups is truly remarkable as we can live so closely together and our lives can be so intertwined socially, economically, and politically, and that we can spend so many years of study in grade school and even in higher education and yet still manage to be ignorant of one another is clear testimony to the deep-seated roots of this human and national tragedy.
Bass, Ronald. “Snow Falling On Cedars.” Literary Cavalcade 51.4 (1999): 22
McKay, Daniel. “Captive Memories: Articulate Vs. Disarticulated Silences In David Guterson’s “Snow Falling On Cedars” And Wendy Catran’s “The Swap…” Comparative Literature Studies 50.4 (2013): 643-669.