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Free Study Guide-Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson-Book Notes
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The Federal Bureau of Investigation search Hatsue’s house. There have been complaints from islanders that “enemy aliens” possess illegal contraband. Hatsue’s father allows them to search and when handed the warrant replies that they are loyal. They took anything deemed “old country,” including a kimono, sheet music, and a precious flute, as well as a shotgun, ammunition, and Hatsue’s scrapbook. They found dynamite, which Hatsue’s father used for clearing stumps. They gathered these items and arrested Hatsue’s father for having illegal contraband. Several other Japanese island men had been arrested that night as well. Hatsue’s father and the other island men were taken to a work camp in Montana.

Hatsue’s mother told them once again of the hard life she lived when she first arrived. She was invisible to the people whose rooms she cleaned and whose food she served. Her daughters would now face this as well. She wanted her daughters to face this in a way that preserved their dignity and allowed them to live in a place where they were not wanted without hating themselves. They could not deny they lived in the world of the hakujin, or whites, so they must learn to persevere through this hardship and not complain or be distracted by suffering. Perseverance and acceptance sets the Japanese apart from the hakujin, she said.

Hatsue argued that all whites do not hate them. Hatsue’s mother agreed but insisted that they are still different. The whites are tempted by their egos and cannot resist their egos, while the Japanese know their egos and can bend them. The whites feel that their aloneness and separateness is everything, while the Japanese believe they are nothing by themselves instead they seek union with the Greater Life.

Hatsue argued that she is not like those that bombed Pearl Harbor. She is a part of this land, this country. She does not want to be Japanese. Her mother cautioned her not to say things that would cause regret; silence was better. Hatsue instantly knew her mother was right; she fell silent, ashamed.

Her mother goes on to say that living among the hakujin has tainted Hatsue and made her soul impure. This lack of purity envelops Hatsue, mists her soul, and haunts her face. She has seen Hatsue’s eagerness to walk in the woods. She cautioned Hatsue to “live among the hakujin” but not become “intertwined” with them. At 18, Hatsue will have to carry her purity alone; her mother can no longer walk with her. Hatsue now knows that the pretense she has carried on for 4 years has failed, and her apparent shyness with boys did not prevent her mother from having at least an inkling of the truth. Hatsue replied that she knows exactly who she is, but the words are uncertain, and she immediately regretted them.

Later, Hatsue takes a walk in the forest. A forest she knows very well. A forest that was still mysterious; yet, it was simple in her complicated world. She thought of how she was torn between the Japanese person she was and the American soil she called home. She thought of Ishmael. How could they say they loved each other? They had simply grown up together. Their love was thoughtless and impulsive and caused by their close proximity to each other. It was “love’s illusion.” But maybe it really was love.

Inside their cedar tree, she talked to Ishmael about these thoughts. Ishmael told her he loved her and that love was stronger than everything else. As long as the loved each other, they would be safe. His confidence almost made her believe. He told her everything would work out, and it did when, on March 21, they found out the Japanese would be placed in internment camps.

Hatsue met Ishmael one last time in the cedar tree. Their emotions taking over, he asked her to marry him as he was poised to enter her. She whispered his name, and he pushed himself inside her; immediately, she knew it wasn’t right. She pulled away. He walked her to the edge of her fields. She wanted to walk away without turning back, but she turned back despite herself. She wanted to say goodbye forever. She wanted to tell him that “in his arms she felt unwhole,” but she couldn’t hurt him. Twelve years later, she still sees him as a handsome young boy with an outstretched arm beckoning her to come back.


Hatsue begins to come to terms with who she is and who she will grow up to be. Her mother makes it clear that there is a distinct separation between the Japanese and the hakujin and that, first and foremost, Hatsue must remember she is Japanese

Hatsue’s inner turmoil between being Japanese in the world of the hakujin has reached its climax. She realizes she has not been able to hide this turmoil from her mother or herself. She questions her love for Ishmael and the rightness of their relationship and her actions, just as she has done throughout their relationship, and finally, she realizes that Ishmael makes her unwhole. She has struggled for years to leave in both worlds, but she realizes she cannot do so and at the same time feel complete. Ishmael has been the source of her incompleteness, and she begins to come to terms with the fact that she must end it with him.

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