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The novel, Snow Falling on Cedars, by David Guterson encompasses many complex issues, which can all be related back to the scars of war. Many positive things come out of wars. People demonstrate love for their fellow compatriots and country, as well as gallantry and self-sacrifice; all of which are very noble gestures. However, there are many destructive aspects or scars of war. These include, but are not limited, to racism and prejudice, physical and emotional loss, and irrevocable changes. The characters that are affected by these issues in the novel are Kabuo Miyamoto, Hatsue Imada, Carl Heine, Etta Heine, Alvin Hooks, Ishmael Chambers, together with the rest of the San Piedro community. The techniques used to portray these effects encompass flashbacks and symbols.
Guterson uses the protagonist, Ishmael Chambers, who suffered the loss of an arm on a "ship's operating table," to demonstrate the psychological pain of war as well as its physical effects. The arm is an omnipresent reminder to the reader of the lifelong effects of war. It also shows Ishmael's inability to reach out to people and his incompleteness as an individual. Guterson notes that "The war, his arm, the course of things" had made Ishmael's heart "much smaller". The scars of war became evident when Ishmael deliberately isolated himself, as "There was nothing he could easily explain to anyone and nobody who wanted to listen" (p.291). Guterson uses the snow as a symbol to represent the feelings of the characters at the time. During the war scenes, the snow is destructive, juxtaposed with the damaging power of hate, war and the effect of the trial on the community of San Piedro. Flashbacks allow the author to show how Ishmael went from an adolescent who told Hatsue that "the ocean goes on forever," to a war veteran who "loves humankind" but generally "dislikes human beings". The physical effects of the war are entwined with the psychological pain via Ishmael's life.
"How was he to leave his passion behind when it went on living its own independent life, as tangible as the phantom limb he'd refused to have denervated. As with the limb so with Hatsue" (p. 373).
Guterson uses the symbolism of Ishmael's father's chair to represent moral authority and dedication to truth and fairness. By the end of the novel, Ishmael's courageous and mature decision to reveal the crucial evidence he found, finally allowed him to fill the chair and draw strength from it. This resulted in Miyamoto's release, which ultimately allowed him to finally move on from his childhood relationship with Hatsue. The scars of war can be physical and psychological; however, the war also built on Ishmael's character as a person, gave him a new outlook on life, and taught him life-long lessons such as love, forgiveness and integrity. This demonstrates that not all scars are unwanted or negative.
Guterson demonstrates in the novel that the war experiences were central to who the characters become. The war veterans were affected primarily in this way. The changes they experienced within themselves had become difficult for their families, friends and neighbours to understand. The reader is able to appreciate this through the technique of omniscient narration. For example, Heine and Miyamoto were unable to break the shell that surrounded them after the war. Miyamoto saw "only darkness after the war, in the world and in his soul" but was able to take refuge in the "smell of strawberries, in the good scent of his wife and his three children" (p.147). The strawberry farm was a symbol of fertility and growth. As mentioned previously, the courtroom saw Kabuo as guilty, which is also a result of Kabuo himself believing he was guilty. "He was a Buddhist and believed in the laws of Karma, so it made sense to him that he might pay for his war murders." (p. 137) Even though he did not kill Carl Heine, he believed that he was destined to suffer for previous murders he committed while fighting in Italy. Therefore, the scars of war include changes in who people are and who they become, as well as the ominous feeling of guilt.
Guterson demonstrates to the reader the various scars of war that occur in the novel. The psychological and physical pains, as well as changes in character, life-long lessons and feelings of guilt are all personal burdens that are shouldered by the war veterans. In addition, the loss of trust, which ultimately resulted in prejudice in the San Piedro community, bore a scar of war, which resulted in actions that changed the course of many characters in the novel.