Free Will Vs. Fate In David Guterson’s Novel, Snow Falling On Cedars

2081 words - 9 pages

There are many unpredictable and ungovernable accidents, coincidences, and chances that drive the universe and can ultimately affect the events of a person’s life. One of the main concepts surrounding David Guterson’s novel, Snow Falling on Cedars, is the power of free will vs. fate. The last sentence of the novel: “accident ruled every corner of the universe except the chambers of the human heart” explains the lack of control that humans have on the forces surrounding them compared to the control they have over their actions or decisions and the impact that it has. Snow Falling on Cedars looks closely at the effect free will and fate has through the murder trial that occurs post World War II in the story where a Japanese American, Kabuo Miyamoto, is charged with the murder of an American, Carl Heine. As the trial takes place, the story interconnects the characters one of who is Ishmael Chambers, a journalist who may be Kabuo’s only hope but struggles with the decision to do what’s right as he was left burned by Kabuo’s wife and his childhood love, Hatsue. The notion of chance and free will can be seen especially in the character of Ishmael who struggles against the effects of the war and Hatsue leaving him. And as a Japanese American during the war, Hatsue herself displays the power of free will in her self-acceptance and in creating a balance in her life. Apart from the portrayal of free will vs. chance in the development of the characters, certain events in the novel such as the case of Carl Heine’s death and the war itself exhibits similar themes. However, unlike Carl’s death, the war shows that there are instances where circumstance may be the result of human actions. In David Guterson’s Snow Falling on Cedars, the events that take unfold and the struggle of each character affected by them signifies the ruling power of a person’s free will against the outside forces of fate.
Throughout the novel, each character struggles against the unchanging and inevitable forces that affect their lives. An example of this is Ishmael Chambers who despite his experiences in the war and having the woman he loves leave him, Ishmael has managed to accept and live around what cannot be changed. During the war, it was by chance that Ishmael was the only survivor from his platoon out in Betio where he must not only suffer the trauma of a veteran but the loss of his arm. Despite this loss he managed to cope with his missing arm and the profound unhappiness brought on by the war turned into cynicism with age. However slight, the change in Ishmael’s perspective can be seen from the following text in the novel:
He learned to be cordial to everyone [. . .] Gradually Ishmael came to view himself as a one-armed man with a pinned-up sleeve, past thirty and unmarried. It was not so bad, and he was not so irritated as he had once been in Seattle (Pg. 36).

Apart from learning to overcome the internal struggles that came with being a war veteran, Ishmael had to learn to...

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