Snow Falling on Cedars : Chapter 7-8

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Summary of Chapter Seven

This is a long and central chapter on the Japanese characters. The Japanese immigrants had come starting in 1883 and settled in the part of the island called “Jap Town.” They planted strawberry fields as sharecroppers. They were not entitled to own land or become citizens. In July after harvest there was a Strawberry Festival and a girl was crowned Strawberry Princess. The Princess was always Japanese, “an unwitting intermediary” between the whites and Japanese (p. 96). By the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 there were over eight hundred Japanese on the island. On March 29, 1942, American transports took all of San Piedro's Japanese Americans to a relocation internment camp to sit out the war so they would not conspire with the enemy. Most of the islanders felt this was right.

Now in 1954, Hatsue Miyamoto, the defendant's wife visits him in jail bringing their three children, two girls and a baby boy. She tells Kabuo not to look so fierce; the jury will think of him as one of Tojo's soldiers. Their lives have been on hold. Hatsue visits relatives during the day and falls asleep on their sofas from exhaustion. She is still beautiful at thirty-one but works like a peasant picking strawberries for extra money. She had been Strawberry Princess in 1941, but now, starting to age, she wears make-up. She takes loss of beauty as a matter of course for she had been educated by Mrs. Shigemura at the age of thirteen in the ancient Japanese ways, learning to dance, serve tea, paint and arrange flowers. Along with this came spiritual training: she must move with a wholeness of being and not disturb the harmony of things. Impermanence is the nature of life. She can tame her ego and become still inside. Mrs. Shigemura warned her that white men would be attracted to her and try to take her virginity. She must marry a boy of her own kind.

Hatsue's mother, Fujiko, had come to America in an arranged marriage to Hisao Imada, a strawberry farmer, whom she thought wealthy, but who actually was in poverty. After an initial rebellion and threat to return to Japan, she surrendered to her duty and worked hard to be Hisao's partner, for he was a good man. They had five daughters with Hatsue the eldest. They all worked in the fields. Hatsue also dug clams and that is where she met Ishmael Chambers, son of the newspaper man, at the age of nine. He taught her to swim and to find geoduck clams. He gave her her first kiss.

When Kabuo asked Hatsue if she had ever kissed anyone or made love before on their wedding night, she said she never had. They had been married at the Manzanar internment camp in a Buddhist chapel. Hatsue knew she would be happy living a simple life with the man she loved. She and Kabuo had the same dream to be farmers, but it was World War II, and he felt he had to enlist on the American side for the sake of honor. Hatsue tried to stop him, for she knew the war would damage him, but he was determined, so she surrendered to loving a man who would never be whole afterward.


Commentary on Chapter Seven

This is a central chapter on Hatsue's character and history and explains why she did not marry Ishmael Chambers. Though many Americans and Japanese married after the war, it was still not as common as it is today because of racial prejudice and the strength of tradition. Hatsue feels a strong influence from her parents, family, and culture. Her religious training is a key passage in the story, for it explains her behavior, and helps to explain the Japanese characters. The whites do not understand Japanese stoicism and lack of expression, taking it to be devious hostility. Hatsue knows the jurors will think her husband one of the merciless soldiers of Hideki Tojo (1884-1948), the Japanese prime minister during World War II, later executed as a war criminal. As with many moments of the story, there are references to World War II, for the characters are still involved in the aftermath of that conflict, though it is peacetime.

Hatsue and her family were among the Japanese to be taken to an internment camp for Japanese in California during the war. Her family had fought hard to come to the United States and make it, though they were not allowed to be citizens. All this has an impact on her ethical choice to stay Japanese within her tradition. By telling the story of Hatsue's mother, Fujiko, a contrast is made between the Issei, the first-generation immigrants, and the Nisei, the first generation of Japanese Americans, born in the United States. Fujiko was tricked into marriage but has loyally stuck with her husband, who is a good man. She never makes a decision based on her own desire but on the good of the family. Hatsue becomes Americanized enough to be confused by Ishmael's logic of going for your own dreams, but in the end, she cannot live a divided life within herself and goes back to her family ways. When she marries Kabuo she feels whole.


Summary of Chapter Eight

Ishmael remembers digging geoduck clams with Hatsue on the beach when they were fourteen. He has begun to see, though he has known her for six years, he does not really know her. She keeps part of her to herself. He does not know how to reveal his feelings to her. They had found a hiding place together in a hollow cedar tree when they were nine, but now, in high school, they are strangers. He loves her and wants to tell her. He kisses her on the beach, and she runs away, but he knows he will love her forever and accepts this.

Ishmael becomes morose when he does not see Hatsue for a while. He does odd jobs in the summer for the families on South Beach, near her home. Finally, he begins spying on her house and watching her come out to do chores. He meets her again at the Nitta farm where they both have jobs picking strawberries. He follows her home during a rainstorm, and they both go to the hollow cedar for shelter. Hatsue admits the tree has become her private place. They lie down together, and she asks if he thinks it is wrong. They admit their parents would be angry, but they kiss in the rain anyway.


Commentary on Chapter Eight

This chapter explains the romance between Ishmael and Hatsue in their youth, told from Ishmael's point of view. The love blossoms of itself over time, and he feels it is natural and inevitable. At the same time, he feels some wrongness because Hatsue, now a teenager, is becoming more Japanese. She is being trained in her own traditions and is feeling the differences between her and Ishmael while he feels only their similarity. One mistake he consistently makes is to assume Hatsue feels exactly as he does.

The cedar tree where the couple meets has been Hatsue's private place for years. She does not say what she does there, but it is implied that she tries to do the spiritual contemplation Mrs. Shigemura taught her, of how to be still within. Ishmael feels the need to talk, but she likes to be silent in herself. Though they discuss meeting in the tree and kissing as wrong according to society, they seem unable to help themselves, and Ishmael is very happy, though he knows that it will never be as perfect as this moment.

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