Snow Falling on Cedars : Chapter 15-16

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Summary of Chapter Fifteen

The terrible journey of Fujiko and her five daughters to the war interment camp in California is recounted. They are separated from Hisao. Fujiko tries to be an example of stoicism to her daughters. The camp in the California desert is cold, unfinished, with sand blowing through it. The people rally and help one another. The young men, like Kabuo Miyamoto, become carpenters and move around, building more comfortable rooms for the families.

Hatsue's sister Sumiko intercepts a letter from Ishmael to Hatsue and shows it to her mother. Ishmael says he cannot live without her. Now, Fujiko understands why Hatsue has been moody and withdrawn all during high school. Sumiko promises to tell no one about the letter. Instead, Fujiko confronts Hatsue with it.


Commentary on Chapter Fifteen

Manzanar is the most famous of the Japanese camps for Japanese Americans during World War II, located at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains north of Los Angeles. In the camp, 120,000 Japanese Americans were incarcerated for no crime, without trial, during World War II because of their race. Many Japanese Americans like Kabuo, served in the American forces to prove their loyalty while their families were imprisoned at home. After the war, Japanese filed class action suits against the American government for imprisoning them illegally. The substandard housing and public latrines are mentioned in the novel that humiliate Fujiko. In addition, when let out in 1945, many had no place to go since their homes and belongings were gone. Hatsue naturally bonds with her family and race over this event.

While thinking of how to deal with Hatsue's secret romance with Ishmael, Fujiko remembers her own disappointment in marriage, having been sold by her parents to Hisao, who was poor. She rebelled and wanted to go back home, but slowly, understood her duty was to stay and make the best of it. She tries to relay this wisdom to Hatsue. Hatsue surprisingly gives in and apologizes for deceiving her family. She says she will write a farewell letter to Ishmael. Fujiko sees Hatsue has matured because of this incident and is a woman now. Meanwhile, Hatsue makes friends with Kabuo in the camp, and he kisses her, beginning their courtship.

The Japanese way of family and group living is shown in this chapter. All must help out, and everyone is stoic and unselfish. Hatsue seems ready to surrender to her duty to find a sense of inner peace. Her mother, though angry, understands what Hatsue has to go through to make this transition, as she remembers her own surrender to duty. She treats Hatsue with wisdom, respect, and dignity, and instead of exposing her to public scorn or shame, appeals to her to act as an adult and to put this boy behind her. Hatsue is spiritually exhausted from the years with Ishmael and is happy to have the attentions of Kabuo, a good man of her own kind.


Summary of Chapter Sixteen

This chapter gives a flashback overview of Ishmael's war experience. He trained as a marine rifleman but after becoming ill with dysentery, he retrained as a radioman and was sent to a division in the South Pacific. Suffering from the break-up with Hatsue, Ishmael is detached and numb. On a transport ship he moves with a fleet to Tarawa atoll to take an island, Betio, defended by Japanese. The navy was supposed to shell the island, and then, the men would invade and mop up. Instead, all is confusion, and Ishmael watches the men around him get hit by enemy fire and die. These are men he knows and trained with. One begs for help when he is wounded, but Ishmael realizes he cannot help the man. Ishmael is shot in the arm, and is lucky to be saved by some medical corpsmen, but his arm has to be amputated. He hates the Japanese.


Commentary on Chapter Sixteen

The Battle of Betio in the Tarawa Atoll in the Pacific occurred in 1943. Some 6,400 Japanese, Koreans, and Americans died within seventy-six hours. This version of the battle brings out the mistakes in planning by the U.S. Marines that caused so many deaths. Carl, Ishmael, and Horace Whaley were all involved in the South Pacific though not together.

Ishmael is suffering from two traumas, the separation from Hatsue, and the war. He writes a letter that he destroys, explaining he now hates her and is killing people who look like her. The marine attack on the island of Betio is described somewhat like the invasion of Normandy in the film, Saving Private Ryan (1998), all confusion and violence. All logical plans and instructions given to the men mean nothing once they try to go ashore. Ishmael watches everyone he knows die around him, blown to pieces in front of his eyes. He decides he hates the Japanese and blames it on Hatsue.

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