Snow Falling on Cedars

by: David Guterson

Hatsue Imada

More than any other character in the novel, Hatsue is torn between the demands of two seemingly irreconcilable sets of values. The young Ishmael represents one set of values, the belief that individuals have the right to be happy and that they can live in a manner unrestrained by the demands imposed by society. The other set of values, represented most fully by Hatsue’s mother, Fujiko, and Mrs. Shigemura, holds that life is inherently full of suffering and misfortune. Individuals must accept the limitations of their time, place, and culture and try their utmost to fulfill their duty to family and community.

Though these two value systems roughly correspond to the cultural division between the whites and the Japanese, Hatsue is proof that such a simplistic division is impossible and that it is inappropriate to assume that all whites feel one way and all Japanese the other. Hatsue feels bound by duty to her parents, but at the same time resents her mother’s antiwhite prejudices. As a teenager, she loves Ishmael but feels that their love is somehow wrong. Later, Hatsue learns to accept that she can never love Ishmael and follows her mother’s wishes by marrying a Japanese man. Yet when Kabuo informs her of his plans to enlist in the army and fulfill his duty to America, Hatsue tries to make him stay. Her argument is similar to the one Ishmael makes in the cedar tree: two people in love should be together no matter what the rest of society demands from them.

Even after the war, when Kabuo is on trial, Hatsue cannot accept the idea that her husband’s fate rests in the hands of an impersonal system of courts and laws. She expects Ishmael to intervene on Kabuo’s behalf simply because Ishmael, as the editor of the newspaper, has power and influence that might be used to assist Kabuo’s case. Throughout the novel, Hatsue struggles to reconcile the conflicting values of individualistic idealism and stoic passivity. That she never fully achieves this reconciliation suggests that such a struggle never ends.