How to Write an Essay on Racism

“It is a disordered world which is presented in Snow Falling on Cedars.” This disorder is present in both David Gutterson’s novel and Hick’s film. It is a disorder of society. Through this disorder many truths are examined, such as, the truth of racism and prejudice, the truth of love, of justice, of purity, of accidental occurrences, of facts and evidence, of crime and of cultural identity. The search for these truths and the nature of them is expressed through literatory techniques and cinematographic techniques.

Techniques of the novel mean that the story is told through flashbacks and at times uses a limited point of view. This means that events are revealed little by little and truths of certain matters are also uncovered little by little. The limited third person perspective sometimes allows readers into the minds of characters but at other times it does not. It helps build suspense and intrigue in the search for truth. Being in the mind of a character lets the audience experience emotional truth. For example, Hatsue, the readers are involved in Hatsue’s struggle for the truth of who she really is. The use of flashbacks allow the story line to flow seamlessly from past to present and back again. Flashbacks often simultaneously serve as testimony in the search for the truth of Carl Heine’s death. The novel also very effectively uses foreshadowing. This is a subtle means of preparing readers for direction of the narrative. Foreshadowing creates suspense and piques the curiosity of readers. It occurs through memories, testimony and flashbacks. It is often used in the search for the truth of facts and evidence e.g. the coffee cup found on the floor of Carl Heine’s boat.

Techniques used in the film vary from the novel in the obvious way that they are more visual. However being visual means that there is more manipulation of the truth of the crime. The film is very dark- almost black and white. This could symbolise the shock of murder and the draining of life. The film uses unique camera shots; characters can be seen looking through objects, usually windows or fences. This is evident in the courtroom with Ishmael looking through the bars of the journalist stand or when he looks through the fence while he is watching Hatsue hang the clothes on the line in their younger years. The film uses the visual technique of shadows and silhouettes in fog or fading light. The fog and fading light are a symbol of the truth of the purity of nature. The stillness and purity of nature is shown after the truth of the “murder mystery” has been discovered. The film, like the novel, tells the story through flashbacks, however they are condensed and not as detailed. This is because detail is visual and does not need to be explained- it can be seen. The confusion of the flashbacks becomes clearer towards the end of the film as the truth of the facts and evidence fall together. The flashbacks create a slow revelation of the truth.

The film being visual can make way for implications that aren’t apparent in the novel. For example, the opening scene, the implications there are not present in the novel. Kabuo is presented in the film as dark and unreadable with a spear in his hand. The scene develops a creepy feeling and the music adds suspense. Another implication of Kabuo’s guilt is the prosecutor’s words- he bases his case largely on physical appearance. While this is also true in the novel to some extent it is much more evident in the film because when the prosecutor says comments such as “Look clearly at the defendant, it’s self evident” or “You sit there with no expression on your face, you’re a hard man to trust” we are actually able to look at the defendant and see what expressions he has. The camera shots place more implications as they tend to be close ups in a situation like this. These implications are manipulations of the evidential truth and the search for the truth of Carl Heine’s death. The prosecutor arranges the facts to suit his theory creating order for him but a disorder of the truth of what really happened.

The truth of a racial society is a major theme in both the novel and film and creates disorder on both a societal level and the fate of the individual. The social truth of racial prejudice comes to dominate the film and the novel. Racism is portrayed on both sides- the Americans and the Japanese. However the novel and film tend to portray the Japanese as the victims. There are major implications of this in the film. The techniques used during the sending away of the Japanese are tear jerking and heart rendering. The camera shows close ups of their emotions and silence. The slow drumbeat, the sense of betrayal as well as the propaganda of the American flag all add to this victimizing of the Japanese. Even when trying to be nice to the Japanese they are still enforcing white power. For example the Strawberry Princess is a sex symbol. White males are intrigued by this exotic figure and yet are still being racist as they are recognizing the Japanese’s differences and promoting them. There is a difference between tolerance and acceptance in terms of racism and by having a Japanese Strawberry Princess the Americans are merely displaying tolerance. Prejudice in the film and novel takes many different forms. There is the Americans who base their racism on appearance, whereas the Japanese base theirs on the treatment they received or there is people like Etta Heine who display a material prejudice over land. Racism is bound into the fabric of society hence the reason Ishmael and Hatsue hide from it. Racism is a mini war and reflects on the truth of war and the effects it has on people. The role of the prosecutor is to inspire hatred of the Japanese. The comments quoted earlier support this. He does not understand the truth of different cultures. Similar cultures have similar codes and are therefore able to read expressions, however different cultures have different facial codes. This concept is the basis of his argument. Even Ishmael becomes aware or picks up on the racism. For example his comment “Fucking Jap bitch!”. He picks up on the racism he had up until then ignored.

The truth of war and its effects is shown through characters such as Carl, Kabuo and Ishmael and can lead to foreshadowing in the film and novel. The effects of war are both obvious (Ishmael’s arm) or hidden beneath the surface (Kabuo’s belief in karma for killing) or even throwaway lines such as;

“Carl Heine was a good man. He was silent, yes, and grave like his mother, but the war had a part in that.”

The truth of justice and the search for the truth of justice is very manipulated in the film. The film shows how facts can be manipulated because of intent. Facts are employed to do things. When used to support unjustified theories they create a disorder of the truth.

“Accident rules every corner of the universe except maybe the chambers of the human heart.”

The film and novel show the truth that everything is accidental expect intentions. It is shown through the fact that Carl Heine’s death was an accident and Ishmael’s withholding the evidence of the lighthouse report. The human heart has intentions, which are connected to feeling. Ishmael’s intentions of withholding the letter were based on his feeling for Hatsue. Clues are the facts of the case (e.g. the coffee cup) not the manipulations of facts to support theories. The re-occurring image of the fish is also and technique the film uses to display the truth of accidents ruling the universe. The fish symbolises natural death and that death is a part of things. The truth of justice in the story was also manipulated by the fact that Kabuo didn’t come forward straight away saying that he had seen Carl the night of his death;

“But if truth were on your side, whatever were you worried about.”

However the film and novel employ techniques that once again allow the Japanese to be victims and this says to the audience that his reason not to come forward was justified due to the treatment they had received and are receiving on trial. Justice in the film and novel is left up to the truth of the individual.

“Considering the death of one man, while pondering the fate of another.”

This also shows that death is a part of things but so is living and manipulations of the truth should not result in the death of another life.

The truth of purity is also explored in the novel and film however more predominantly in the novel because of its lengthy descriptions of the snow and suffocating of the courtroom. Hatsue’s search for the truth of who she is, is also another example of the truth of purity. The snow has a metaphoric function. It shows purity, inevitability and accidental occurrences. After all “sometimes unfairness is just a part of things.” The suffocating of the courtroom symbolises the fact that the truths behind this story belong not just on a tiny island but on a much wider scale. The snow is uncontrollable just as so many of the truths.

This presentation of a disordered world leads to the exploration of truths. It allows readers and the audience to appreciate concerns other then a death. The mystery of this story could merely be a vehicle for other concerns. Disorder is represented through the landscape (snowstorm, coastline), society (racism, crimes, justice, purity, cultural identification) and the power of the individual.

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