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    David Guterson and His Use of the Theme of Nature Essay

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    David Guterson, a young American author, has written two major worksregarding aspects of human nature and human emotions.

    His first publication, acollection of short stories, entitled The Country Ahead of Us, The CountryBehind addresses some of the moral dilemmas that humans face throughout theirlives. His first novel, Snow Falling on Cedars, narrates the trial of aJapanese man accused of murdering a white man in the post World War II era. Throughout his literary works, Guterson uses elements of nature: land, trees,water and especially snow, as literal and metaphorical tools to develop andresolve conflicts. David Guterson uses the same aspects and characteristics of nature intwo different ways.

    First he describes in visual detail the literal or actualeffects that elements of nature have on the characters in the story. But moreimportantly Guterson uses nature to convey substantial and symbolic meaning inthe lives of the characters in his stories. One of the elements of nature that Guterson uses as a tool to developthe conflicts in Snow Falling on Cedars are the strawberry fields on the island. These fields represent an important source of income for the community.

    Traditionally the Japanese laborers worked the fields and the white Americansowned the fields. The question of the ownership of seven acres of strawberryfields serves as the apparent motive for the murder of Carl Heine. To a localJapanese fisherman, Kabuo (accused of murdering Carl Heine), the ownership ofthis land promises a secure future and ultimately independence. . . .

    she knewthat Kabuo wanted a strawberry field. . nothing more than that (Snow Falling 89). His dream. . .

    was close to him now, his strawberry land, his happiness (SnowFalling 456). The strawberry fields connected Kabuo to his past and symbolizeda continuity of life. My father planted the fathers of these (strawberry)plants (Snow Falling 362). Guterson also uses snow metaphorically to make the ownership of thestrawberry fields disappear and seem unimportant in life (Snow covering thefields permitted the reader to veiw the ownership of the fields as a verymaterialistic and selfish thing). After the snow has fallen it acts as apurifier to all the wrong that has come of the fighting over the ownership ofthe fields. Center Valley strawberry fields lay under nine inches ofpowder.

    . . the snow fall obliterated the boarders (of the fields). . . all humanclaims to the landscape were.

    . . made null and void by the snow(Snow Falling320). The snow covered the fields; all of the fields seemed as one field. Thenine inches of snow caused a visual unity of the strawberry fields. .

    . theworld was one world(Snow Falling 320). The element of water is used as a paradox in Guterson’s novel SnowFalling on Cedars. Water is both the sustainer and taker of life. The damp andmisty climate on San Piedro Island is the reason why the community grows andprosper off of the strawberry based economy. Without the water, and the wet andnurturing environment it provided to the island there would be no foundation forlife.

    The ocean is also one of the key sources to the community. It providesthe community with a way to make a living. Water, the source of life in Guterson’s literary works, is also the endof life. In several of his works water is portrayed as the place where lifeends. . .

    . the wall of water rose up from behind. . . Carl Heine fell swift andhard against the Susan Marie’s port gunnel.

    His head craked open above the leftear and then he slid heavily beneath the waves(Snow Falling 458). The tidalwave was the cause of Carl’s death; the water, this element of nature was truelyresponsible for the death of the fisherman. In that sense Gutersonn uses watermetaphorically to represent the circle of life; the source of life, themaintenance of life, and the end of life. Guterson uses trees as a metaphorical device to portray and predictevents in his literary works.

    He also uses them as literal tools to develop hiswork, beautiful cedars and elms which are magnificent, full trees with flowingbranches that are visually pleasing and familiar to his readers. In AmericanElm, one of Guterson’s short stories, trees are used as a metaphor to screenand sheild the sanitarium from the rest of the town. Burrellville Sanatariumlay shadowed in a thicket of pines. .

    . (Elm 118). In the town of Burrellville,the sanatarium has been isolated from the rest of the town because of the pinetrees that surround the building. The trees offer protection to the sanitarium. .

    . . the old people waited. . .

    in the light that filtered through the pines. . . (Elm118). The people who live in the sanatarium are not in touch with the outsideworld, but instead they are in touch with whatever the pines permit to be letthrough.

    The pines act as a metaphorical barrier; they seclude the sanatariumfrom forieners to it’s own world. Evidence that trees . . .

    . . The most prominent element of nature that Guterson uses as ametaphorical tool to develop and resolve conflicts is snow. Throughout hisnovel, Snow Falling on Cedars, he writes about and describes the snow thatfalls on the small island on the Puget Sound in northern Washington.

    Guterson’sdescriptive words about the snow generally parallel the racism that dominatesKabuo’s trial. Kabuo stands accused of murdering local fisherman, Carl HeineJr. , who fought against the Japanese in World War II. Outside, a winter stormis brewing. . .

    the snow quietly blankets the island- much like the silentprejudice that shrouds its five thousand damp souls'(Pate 106). From the very start of the trial Guterson unveils the presence of racism. On the first day of the trial the racism had already greatly influenced thelikely outcome of the trial. Snow fell that morning outside the courthousewindows. . .

    wind from the sea lofted snowflakes against the windowpanes. (SnowFalling 4). Almost the entire community was already blinded by prejudice as thesnow was falling on the island. The snow blurred from vision the cleancontours of the cedar hills(Snow Falling 5). As the snow fell on the island itcovered the cedars and made it very hard for any one to see that the trial was atrial of a man, and not the trial of a Japanese man. In the gallery thecitizens stood.

    . . watching the snow lash toward them (Snow Falling 28). Prejudice, like snow, was predetermined. As the trial of Kabuo advances and more evidence is introduced, thethread of racism in the trial is much more vivid and evident.

    All of theevidence circumstantially incriminates Kabuo for murder. Again, Guterson usessnow as a metaphorical tool to develop the growing conflicts in the novel. Asracism and prejudice become more and more evident the snow fall increases. thefalling snow beyond the courtroom windows.

    . . was coming (down) harder now, muchharder(Snow Falling 60). The racism that is represented by snow continuesunnoticed by the people in the town.

    As the snow thickens no one really seemsto notice the progression of the storm. By noon, three inches (of snow) hadsettled on the town, a snow so ethereal it could hardly be said to have settledat all. . .

    the wind flung it sharply at their narrowed eyes and foreshortenedtheir view of everything(Snow Falling 170). The snow acts as a blind fold tothe community; no one can see the reality of what the snow could do or howsilently and unnoticed the snow could warp the trial so far from it’s intendedpurpose. As the snow buries the island, Guterson’s narrative begins to revealthe community’s secret heart, the injustice that may break it in two. (Pate 107)Snow is used in a very descriptive manner by Guterson, as his readersare treated to many different literal forms of snow. Hard falling, windwhipped, lashing, clean, beautiful, still, sun-dappled and silent are someof the different adjectives that Guterson utilizes to bring the recognizablereality of snow quite literally from the pages to the readers’ mind.

    The snowchanges in these scenes in the story as Gutersontells. . . . . .

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    . Snow is also one of the elements that can also be traced throughGuterson’s earlier works. In Angels in the Snow Guterson uses snow in thevery same way that he uses snow as a metaphor in his novel. Angels in the Snowis a short story about the struggle for a man to maintain a truthful marriagewith his wife. In this story the snow that falls on Christmas eve symbolizesthe falling apart of his marriage due to unsurpassable problems.

    Outside thewindow a light snow blew down. . . in the yard the grass looked sprinkled withpowder(Angels 3). Guterson weaves a tale about moralistic troubles that beganin a young man’s fragile past.

    Outside, the snow covered the last of the lawn. The world looked hushed, delicate and beautiful. ( Angels 7) This passagedescribes the delicate remembrances of the protagonist’s youthful days. Andthen, outside the falling snowflakes looked larger. .

    . a low drift was forming. . .

    ( Angels 12). This statement is offered as Guterson’s main character begins toconfront his past conflicts. Category: English

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