Snow Falling on Cedars

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Important Quotes Explained

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Quote 2

When they looked out into the whiteness of the world the wind flung it sharply at their narrowed eyes and foreshortened their view of everything.

This passage, near the beginning of Chapter 12, illustrates Guterson’s use of the snowstorm as a motif in the novel. Relentless and impersonal, the storm repeatedly batters the island, leaving the islanders at its mercy. Guterson implies that the storm is like the universe: cold and impersonal, the product of random chance that humans are powerless to control. Relentlessly pummeling the courthouse, the storm symbolically lashes at humanity’s frail attempts to sort out right from wrong and guilt from innocence within the courtroom. Those who go outside and face the storm directly lose their sense of direction and vision and are thrust into a nearly primitive struggle to survive. Everything else—such as abstract concepts like justice and love—is obliterated. In “foreshorten[ing] their view of everything,” the storm forces people to look into the “whiteness of the world.” This last phrase is likely a reference to Herman Melville’s famous chapter in Moby Dick—titled “The Whiteness of the Whale”—in which the narrator equates the “all-consuming” whiteness of the whale with chaos, disorder, and the powerlessness of the individual to influence his or her fate.