Snow Falling on Cedars

The inference of silence is responsible for a whole new mechanism of thinking within established structures and relationships, and perhaps, within the structure of a new way of understanding things. In Snow Falling on Cedars, David Guterson addresses the inauspicious theme of silence through his complex cast of characters, especially between the relationship of Ishmael Chambers and Hatsue Miyamoto, for whom silence heightens emotions as well as tension. In this novel, Guterson reminds us that, as a society, we can sometimes be misled by silence, and we sometimes take great pains to relate in detail the things we do not say. Due to the limitless interpretations of silence and all that silence can imply, Hatsue's consistent silent tendencies toward Ishmael allow him to be misled into believing that she truly loved him. The silence is later seen in Ishmael, who is upset because his relationship with Hatsue ends unpleasantly, and so he keeps a piece of information silent that would enable Hatsue's husband, Kabuo, to be liberated. Some would label Ishmael as a disturbed man who is obsessed with Hatsue, but it is later seen that he comes to his senses and breaks the silent tendencies in the book that improves adverse situations. Silence can sometimes stifle the projection of how people truly feel. Perhaps when silence is finally broken, there can be relationships in a society where there is more compassion than anguish, and that in turn can lead to the liberation of injustices in society.
In this novel, Guterson shows that in the early to mid 1900s, first-generation Japanese-Americans were born into an era in America where their freedom of choosing what to do and what to say were very limited. America, at the time, was a place where there were many Japanese immigrants who, by their silent nature, were not always willing to openly express themselves and what they desired. The Japanese immigrants grew up in their native country learning to contain their opinions. Newborn Japanese-American children
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in America then, were taught the ways of the old Japanese culture. Hatsue Miyamoto, like many other first-generation Japanese-American female children, was raised to be what was expected of a proper Japanese girl. "Her parents had sent Hatsue to Mrs. Shigemura with the intent that the girl would not forget that she was first and foremost Japanese," and she would be told to "stay away from white men" (84) because it was not accepted in American society back then. Mr. Shigemura also told her that "her stillness," meaning silence, "would serve her well" (84). Her mother would reinforce this and continue to tell her "Still you should learn to say nothing that will cause you regret. You should not say what is not in your heart-or what is only in your heart for a moment. But you know this-silence is better" (201).
Hatsue was a very obedient daughter who listened well to her mother, and at times, her upbringing would reveal itself in her relationship with Ishmael. Her silence would emerge throughout the course of the novel, and for Ishmael, he felt that Hatsue was keeping her heart concealed, which was the cause of his constant calamity. At first, it was the "detached part of her, the part she kept to herself," that, "had begun to interest him deeply" (98). But this would trouble him further down their relationship, for it was this detached part of Hatsue that seemed to give Ishmael more grief than anything else. There would be times when Ishmael would speak but Hatsue would only answer in silence. "It was like Hatsue not to answer." Ishmael himself, "was always in need of words, even when he couldn't quite muster them," but it seemed that Hatsue was "capable of a brand of silence he couldn't feel inside" (111). Even when Ishmael had enough courage to begin to speak and pry into what he thought Hatsue was concealing, she would only give him an answer to his worries equally less satisfying. Hatsue would tell him that "her emotional reserve was something she couldn't help. She had been carefully trained by her upbringing, she said, to avoid effusive displays of feeling" (171-172). Ishmael continued to "worry about it perpetually" (172) because