What's Up With the Title?
Well, a snowstorm dominates the present-day timeline, and cedars and cedar wood are all over the place as well. As we've already mentioned elsewhere (see "Symbols"), snow and cedars are both pretty...
What's Up With the Epigraph?
Epigraph #1: "In the middle of the journey of our life I came to myself within a dark wood where the straight way was lost. Ah, how hard a thing it is to tell what a wild, and rough, and stubborn w...
What's Up With the Ending?
Ishmael caps off the story with a couple of conclusions he's come to about life and love. First, he has realized that "[t]he heart of any other, because it had a will, would remain forever mysterio...
An alternate title for this book could be Snow Falling on Naughty Bits, as there's quite a bit of steamy content. Also, beyond the sex scenes, there are a couple of, er, rather vivid and non-sexy d...
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There are twenty-four Japanese observers gathered in the back of the courtroom. There is no explicit law that states that they must sit in the back, but social pressure compels them to. This detail leads readers to an overview of the status of Japanese residents in the United States at the time. People of Japanese descent could not legally hold title to land unless they were citizens, but the catch was that residents of Japanese descent could not become citizens. In spite of this situation, the San Piedro Island community attempted to live in harmony, best expressed by the annual Strawberry Festival in early July. Each year, a Japanese maiden was crowned Strawberry Princess; the following day, the Japanese began picking raspberries. This vision of harmony occurs during the lush summer harvests, in contrast to the wintry time of the trial. The narrative further reveals that on March 29, 1942, the U.S. War Relocation Authority commanded all persons of Japanese ancestry to gather at the ferry terminal of Amity Harbor in eight days' time for relocation.
At the conclusion of Horace's testimony, the trial breaks for the morning recess. Hatsue heads to the front of the courtroom to speak with her husband, with whom she shares a son and two daughters. Kabuo, by this time, has been imprisoned for seventy-seven days. The narrative then offers a deeper view into Hatsue. As a girl, she had been carefully trained by Mrs. Shigemura in the ways of managing her beauty and grace. As a Japanese, she also learned a view of life that embraced death, and she learned that America was a place that brought the Japanese tension and unhappiness. Still, she learned that it was important to always maintain an inner stillness and harmony, in order to withstand the difficulties life would ultimately present. Hatsue, being beautiful, was also warned of white men's lust and advised to marry a good Japanese man.
Hatsue's mother Fumiko had come to America as a picture bride, and the arranger of the marriage had assured her that Hisao was a wealthy man. When Fumiko arrived in Seattle, however, she found him a pauper. He apologized profusely and, over time, she grew to forgive him. They shared five daughters, Hatsue being the eldest. When the family had moved to San Piedro Island, they each had fallen in love with the life of strawberry farming. It was, in their view, clear work.
Hatsue and Ishmael had met first when they were ten on a beach. Ishmael taught Hatsue how to swim in the sea, and at sea they shared a first kiss. But now, as she stands at the front of the courtroom with her husband, her thoughts are occupied with Kabuo and how they had married at Manzanar, the relocation camp where residents of Japanese ancestry had been sent. Country music had drowned out their embraces the night after the wedding. She had thought briefly of Ishmael then but, when Kabuo asked her if she had ever been with another man, she answered no, leaving the reader to doubt. Kabuo had gone to fight in the war eight days later, saying it was a matter of honor: "There was something extra that had to be proved, a burden this particular war placed on him..." (70).
Ishmael watches her longingly in the courtroom and thinks of how he has seen her change. They had kissed each other again in the secret hollow of an old cedar tree but, he recalls, she had felt it was wrong. For a while, she had avoided him, but slowly she returned. During their youth, they had often been kissing in that cedar tree.
As the trial resumes after the morning recess, Alvin Hooks calls his next witness. Etta Heine, Carl's mother, had never particularly liked island life or strawberry farming. She didn't like the fruit. She much preferred Seattle, where she and her husband Carl Senior had first lived and where she had made a living as a seamstress. When Carl Senior passed away in 1944, she sold the farm to Ole Jurgensen, whose holdings then spanned sixty-five acres in the middle of Center Valley. Etta testifies that she has known Kabuo and the Miyamoto family for more than twenty years. One day, Zenhichi Miyamoto, Kabuo's father, had come to see Carl Senior about buying seven acres of the hilly land, the least productive part of the farm. Etta, however, warned her husband about the transaction. Prices were low because of the Depression, but the real estate was sure to go up. Nevertheless, Carl Senior arranged for a quasi-legal "lease-to-own" contract for the length of eight years, payments to be made every six months on top of the down payment of five hundred dollars. By the end of the eight-year lease period, Kabuo would be twenty and, born in the U.S., he was an American citizen; title would go into his name. Etta testifies that the Miyamotos missed the final two payments in 1942, during the time they were relocated. Carl Senior had insisted that the entire event was wrong, but Etta had countered that it was wartime. He said to her, "We ain't right together" (94), but she hadn't cared about that for a long time. When Zenhichi arrived at the house to try to pay 120 dollars, Carl Senior had told him to keep it because he would need it, assuring him so he would not worry. In the meantime, Carl Junior had gone to visit Kabuo, who had given him a bamboo fishing rod. When Etta saw the gift, she told him to return it. In the end, the Miyamotos missed the final two payments and, because the contract had been breached, she sold the land and returned to the Miyamotos all of their equity.
From the proceeds of the sale, Etta rented a modest bedroom over Lottie's apparel shop in Amity Harbor. In July 1944, Kabuo arrived at her door, and she insisted that she had done nothing illegal. Kabuo replied that doing "wrong" was another matter. From then on, Etta states to the court, Kabuo had given her dirty looks in town. She had complained about it to her son, and from then on, in her view, her son and Kabuo were enemies.
Nels, in the cross-examination, draws attention to the fact that the Miyamotos would have paid a total of $4,500 for the property but, by 1945, the land was worth $7,000. In highlighting these facts, Nels implies that Etta coveted the profit for herself.
Ole Jurgnesen takes the stand next and recalls that the 1944 property deed Etta had given him was free and clear. He had known nothing of the arrangement with the Miyamotos until, one day, Kabuo had arrived at his door insisting that Etta had robbed him. Ole advised that Kabuo take it up with her and told him where she was living. After recently suffering a stroke, Ole decided to put all of his land on the market, and on September 7 Carl Heine arrived at his door with a down payment. They shook hands; it was a deal. Later that same day, Kabuo arrived, and Ole explained to him he had already sold the land to Carl.
Though it is not a law that the Japanese residents sit at the back of the courtroom, they are compelled to by the social power of prejudice. In the courtroom, this example resonates with the often difficult truth that individuals, though considered equal under the law, may not be considered equal socially. In other words, society itself may prove the stronger judge, with unjust consequences. The novel illustrates this possibility by presenting an accused man of Japanese descent and Japanese observers sitting in the back of the room. This illustration suggests another structural division in the fabric of the narrative: the law (figured as the space of the courtroom during Kabuo's trial) versus, and impacted by, the social views among white residents in the island community.
Against this illustration, the narrative cuts to a vision of communal harmony set in the summertime, where the island, lush with harvest, celebrates the strawberries by coming together as one community. The Japanese residents who supply much of the labor for the farming are, in a sense, applauded when a Japanese girl is crowned Strawberry Princess. On a less obvious, individual level, meanwhile, the crowning indicates Hatsue's place from Ishmael's point of view: she is forever on a pedestal embodying "the spirit of the place."
From there, the youthful love between Hatsue and Ishmael comes to light. In the summer of their lives, in contrast to the winter trial, harmony among all of the island residents, in spite of its racial divides, had seemed possible. Nevertheless, Hatsue experiences guilt within the relation: schooled in traditional Japanese values, she feels, on a certain level, that her actions betray her family and heritage. Cultural schooling had taught her there was a difference between Japanese and Americans, and that Americans would find it difficult to understand who the Japanese really were. Seeking to preserve what was essentially Japanese about Hatsue, her teacher advised that she seek a Japanese man to love.
A key conversation that occurrs between Hatsue and Ishmael reveals the presumed cultural difference, however, as perhaps nothing more than a matter of perspective. While in Ishmael's eyes all of the waters of the seas of the earth make one sea, to Hatsue each of the seas has its own distinct virtues, its own name and color. The conversation can be read on a deeper level in that Ishmael, in the way of his father, is an idealist who views humankind in its general, abstract form: fundamentally, all human beings are at heart the same. This is precisely the attitude that leads Arthur to defend the Japanese residents in the community during the war. So for Ishmael, though Hatsue is Japanese she is nonetheless "the spirit of the place," because she is simply the girl he has grown to love on the island. Hatsue, meanwhile, projects a vision of the diversity of the world. Her vision resonates strongly with the value of unique and diverse cultures and points to the fluidity of borders--individuals, more and more, can and do travel from the countries in which they were born, in the hope of a better life, leading them to become aware of diverse sets of values. The novel provides no reason to choose between the two perspectives, each being valuable in certain respects. The key seems to lie in striking a balance between universality and particularity. For Hatsue and Ishmael, history and context assert a unique pressure to resolve this abstract conflict in real-life terms.
Hence, at a time when Hatsue's Japanese identity comes under fire, she slowly asserts it in a show of loyalty by marrying a Japanese man, not unlike the way Kabuo needed to assert his American identity by fighting in the war. With Ishmael, the danger is that Hatsue's Japanese self will become a moot point in the face of a universal love.
On a more fundamentally human level, Hatsue's character reveals how the past is unique to each of us, held privately and never completely known or understood by another (or even ourselves). Hatsue, for instance, consistently holds herself away from Ishmael; in a similar way, she holds from Kabuo the part of her life that includes Ishmael. This act of holding back the past signals a fundamental separateness of human beings. Even in the most intimate of love relationships, solitude persists, and each person's uniqueness can become difficult to express. In a sense we are all alike in our solitude, though we each experience it in our own way. This experience becomes especially acute for men in the novel with respect to their experiences at war.
The novel therefore follows a structure along the lines of separate personal histories and, as these histories come to light, the narrative explores the shared youth of Hatsue and Ishmael and the romance between Hatsue and Kabuo. In the end, the common cultural experience that Hatsue and Kabuo share finds a fruition in marriage. Still, it is important to add that they come together because they share the same particular dream, that of one day owning a strawberry farm. People are not entirely different, and some people may be more alike than unalike; the marriage results from love and a common heritage, plus a shared dream of a common future.
As far as Etta Heine is concerned, her revelation regarding the land deal between her deceased husband and the Miyamotos shows how her actions have come to affect a number of lives in the community. Members of a community inevitably confront the fact that all of their fates are linked with one another's. The relocation of the Japanese residents, in contrast, expresses a motivation to insist on separateness (despite the legal status of many of the Japanese residents as American citizens). The conflict surrounding the land sale also reflects the causes of war between countries that are in conflict over territorial expansion.
Etta is not a likeable character, and the reader senses, though it is not made explicit, how the Miyamoto family reacted to the death of Carl Senior. He had actively taken a part in helping the family achieve a particular dream, but his unfortunate death led his wife to take action. Kabuo takes the moral high ground when he states that her action, though legal, is "wrong," highlighting the discrepancy that often exists between law and morality, the legal and the ethical. At its best, law is a product of human reason, but it sometimes reflects irrational prejudices. These concepts were confronted by people in the United States when an Executive Order signed by the President of the United States that forced the relocation of citizens of only Japanese ancestry was found to be "legal" in a 1944 case, Korematsu v. United States. The moral "wrongness" of the order in that it curtailed the civil liberties and rights of American citizens--despite its legality--provides a sobering lesson from American history.
Kabuo and Carl Heine, the son of Etta and Carl Senior, had been childhood friends. Their friendship was marked by Kabuo's gift of a bamboo fishing pole. At this point, our questions about Carl are: was Carl more like his mother or his father? What did he inherit from each of them, and how are these traits expressed in his actions? Does he take his mother's side with regard to the land? Or has he absorbed his father's friendship and concern for building a stronger community?