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Snow Falling on Cedars, by David Guterson, is an emotional story about the life of a man who could not move on and a woman who could. The man, Ishmael, is hopelessly in love with the woman, Hatsue. Ishmael holds on to Hatsue even after he gains the knowledge that it is extremely improbable that he can ever be with her. Why can not they be together? It is racism and cultural differences which doom Ishmael and Hatsue s love.
How can these two different people come together? Ishmael and Hatsue meet when they are children. They form the idea that they love each other through their limited knowledge and through their adolescent view of relationships. Hatsue and Ishmael share a very close friendship for many years, from the time of childhood to their teens when the two became extremely close. Their relationship doesn t beyond a pure friendship until one day Ishmael kisses Hatsue when they are fourteen. “I like you I ve always liked you,”(99) Ishmael says to Hatsue. However, in a time where inter racial marriages are considered heinous by both cultures, their love has already been determined futureless. Hatsue is aware of this much more earlier than Ishmael. The racial differences between them are the insurmountable barrier.
For Ishmael, the love is real since the love comes from the pure friendship. After their first kiss, He decided then that he would love her forever no matter what came to pass (100). Ishmael looks forward to meeting her in the hollow cedar tree goes out of his way to see her, even if she does not see him. He thinks of her no matter what he is doing. He tells to himself that it [their love] must go on forever. (100). It is
because his cultural background encourages his romantic notion. He also believes that Hatsue feels the
same. He felt certain of this. He felt certain Hatsue felt the same way (100). This is his view for their love. From his cultural background, he insists that their love will go on for ever.
For Hatsue, she reacts to Ishmael, and she does not think as deep of their love as Ishmael. When Ishmael kisses her on the beach, she ran away down the beach (100). She does not realize he loves her until he tells her. She then realizes she likes being with him, and returns his love partially in spirit, but completely in word. Inside her, she knows their difference. She tells Ishamel, You re not Japanese. And I m alone with you (112). Even Ishmael can feel this, he felt her distance from him so completely that it seemed impossible to reach her (172). Hatsue s initial intent is to extend friendship towards Ishmael. They are friends since their early childhood, and Hatsue sees nothing more of it on her own. Deep down, she just wants to be really good friends, even she does not realize it at the time. Hatsue sees the cultural differences between Ishmael and her. That is the one of the reason why Hatsue can get out of the love easier than Ishmael and move on.
The turning point in their love is when the war comes. When Ishmael tells Hatsue that he will be going off to war, he is really asking her if she can wait for him. That day when they hold each other, it is not the same. They both realize that they are victims of circumstances out of their control. However, Ishmael believes they can overcome them since he thinks it is the war, and This war won t go on forever (207). In fact, it is not the war that is the obstacle. The obstacle is their racial and cultural differences. The war just brings the turning point sooner. At that point, Hatsue finally realizes she does not love Ishmael, while Ishmael is as sure as ever of his love.
About the love with Ishmael, Hatsue is much more rational with her feeling. She has grown up and come to realize her roots and her culture. Hatsue s mother notices that in the three weeks since they d left San Piedro [Hatsue] was suddenly grown up, a woman, weary from the inside (230). Hatsue tells her
mother, I m done with him he isn t the husband for me, Mother. I ve known that all along (230). She understands that she must love and marry one of her own kind because it is expected of her. Hatsue has been taught by Mrs Shigemura how to be a proper Japanese girl. It is in her upbringing to be just that. Hatsue is finally in touch with her real feelings. When Ishmael says, I want to marry you (213), Hatsue was far too empty to answer this (213). She has become mature enough in her mind to understand the feelings she has, and she has none beyond that of friendship for Ishmael. At that point Hatsue finally realizes she does not love Ishmael. She feels a moral obligation to tell Ishmael of her feelings, which she does. She writes a letter to Ishmael, I don t love you, Ishmael. I can think of no more honest way to say it. From the very beginning, when we were little children, it seemed to me something was wrong Now, everything is obvious to me and I feel I have to tell you the truth I am not yours any more. Hatsue mentions that something is wrong. What is it? It is the reality that they are from different racial groups and grow up with totally different cultural background.
When Ishmael receives this letter during the war, he is crushed. He hated her now that he looked forward to killing as many Japs as possible”(237). During that time, Ishmael loses his best love and one of his arm which are all part of his body. The arm is the physical part, and love is the spiritual part. “That fucking goddamn Jap bitch”(251) is Ishmael s response to the Dear John letter. Yet his love for Hatsue does not diminish. He didn t want to hate her (237). Ishmael holds back and chooses not to stay angry and bitter hoping that his world will return to what it had been. His culture makes him the way of thinking of the love. He believes that Hatsue will return to him.
When Ishmael finds that Hatsue has married someone else, he can not accept the fact that Hatsue will never be with him. Therefore, when he has the proof of Kabuo s innocence late in the novel, he
hesitates in bringing it forward. I have to think he s guilty (343), he lies to his mother. This reveals much
about the type of love Ishmael has for Hatsue. His love is definitely the same love he has as a child for her. He wants to be with Hatsue, no matter what she wants. He does not care substantially about her happiness. Instead of accepting the fact that she is happy with Kabuo, he holds resentment for their marriage and his
weaker morals will have done anything to take them apart. Even when he comes to her with the evidence, she tells him again that it will make her very happy if he will find someone else. His life is miserable because he can not accept Hatsue s decision and true feelings. He still can not see their differences. His romantic conception makes him try to get Hatsue back and have a happy ending.
There are cultural and racial differences between Ishmael and Hatsue, which doom their love. They are not aware of this when they are young. Once either one becomes mature enough to realize this, their relationship is doomed. Has Ishmael realized his love is not true love, he will have had to move away from Hatsue. They are wrong from the start. The best they can have hoped for is friendship, which sadly they can not achieve because Ishmael does not see deeply inside their relationship like Hatsue does. He can not see the differences between him and Hatsue.
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