The following is a polished personal response to the excerpt from Snow Falling on Cedars by Daniel Guterman. The excerpt takes place in an American relocation camp after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. The two characters in this excerpt, Fujiko and Hatsue, are mother and daughter, respectively, and both women are of Japanese descent. Hatsue had been secretly communicating (romantically) with an American boy named Ishmael Chambers, and one of the letters that Ishmael sent to Hatsue was intercepted by Fujiko, who read the letter aloud.
Discuss the idea(s) developed by the text creator in your chosen text about the ways in which individuals take responsibility for themselves or others. (June 2010)
All parents have an intrinsic instinct to work for the needs of their children. The parent will always take it upon themselves to ensure that their children are well fed, well dressed, well loved, and most important of all, well-behaved; inevitably, there comes a time when the parent must and allow their children to take responsibility for themselves. Fujiko Imada – in an excerpt from David Guterson’s novel, Snow Falling on Cedars – experiences this after she reprimands her daughter for secretly communicating with a white-skinned boy. Fujiko Imada is a woman who has a strong connection with her Japanese ancestry, and she governs her children under the same ideals. As a mother, she takes on the responsibility of ensuring that her daughters are protected against American influence, which she accomplishes by drilling traditional Japanese values into the minds of her daughters. By displaying Fujiko’s method of dealing with the responsibilities that motherhood entails, David Guterson develops the idea that an individual may take responsibility for others under their care by restricting the actions of the other individuals in order to protect them against perceived dangers; however, this will rob the confined individual of their independence, which they will try to reclaim by taking responsibility for themselves.
Hatsue’s irresponsible behavior in secretly conversing with a white-skinned boy, Ishmael Chambers, makes Fujiko believe that she isn’t adequately fulfilling her responsibilities as a parent. Her instinct as a parent tells her that she has failed to protect Hatsue from American influence. As a mother, Fujiko’s greatest fear is her daughters being assimilated into American culture and thereby losing their Japanese heritage. Hatsue’s hidden romance with an American (white) boy is seen as Hatsue willingly walking towards what Fujiko perceives to be her greatest danger. This can be evidenced when Fujiko hands Hatsue the letter after closing the door behind them saying, “Your mail. I don’t know how you could have been so deceitful. I’ll never understand it.” (Guterson 1). By shutting the door, Fujiko guarantees that the confrontation that between her and Hatsue is only between the two of them; it is a confrontation that is solely restricted to a mother and her daughter. The mother even goes so far as to spit the dialogue at her daughter, signifying disdain for her daughter’s actions. The daughter has been “deceitful” towards her mother when the daughter decided to ignore the boundaries that the mother had set for her, which resulted in the mother’s failure. This attempt to break free from one’s restraints is seen as an act of rebellion by Fujiko: she believes that Hatsue is willingly accepting American ideals over the ideals that Hatsue has known her entire life. Fujiko is unable to understand her daughter’s need for independence, which is a gift that comes with age. To her, protecting Hatsue from the loss of her traditional ideals is a burden that she must continue to shoulder. The mother’s thoughts are dominated by “bitterness” toward the event in lieu of any other emotion; the bitterness that she feels is akin to the feelings of melancholy that exist in a parent as they watch their children grow out of their protective reach. For Fujiko, her protective reach lies in protecting the ideals of the family’s Japanese ancestry. It’s for this reason that Fujiko imposes greater restrictions on Hatsue, ordering Hatsue to never write to her secret lover in an effort to bring Hatsue back into her protective reach. Ultimately, Fujiko wants to protect Hatsue’s Japanese ideals. This is shown when Fujiko selectively chooses to speak to her daughter in Japanese in order to remind her of her roots, saying “Deceiving me is only half of it, daughter. You have deceived yourself, too.” (Guterman 1). By choosing to speak this part in Japanese, Fujiko implies that Hatsue has truly failed the traditional Japanese ideals that Fujiko was imposing on Hatsue. This is further emphasized when Fujiko accuses her daughter of deceiving herself as well – Hatsue’s dishonourable actions went against her own values and beliefs as a Japanese woman. As a mother, Fujiko’s greatest priority was ensuring that her daughters maintain close ties with their Japanese ancestry – Fujiko’s method of parenting her children is perfect in achieving this. Hatsue understands how she has failed her mother after Fujiko tells her that Hatsue has deceived herself. This signifies the magnitude of Hatsue’s failure to her mother: Hatsue was not only dishonest with her own family, but she was also dishonest with the ideals that she had become accustomed to. There is a failure to consider the cause of Hatsue’s dishonesty by Fujiko; the mother only believes that her daughter has disobeyed her internal Japanese ideals out of love, which would signify the mother’s ultimate loss. In reality, Hatsue – who is aged 18 at the time of these events – is merely only trying to get a taste of the independence that has been withheld from her for her entire life. This is the price of Fujiko’s protection. The instinctive protection of the parent will greatly decrease the independence of the child, as is seen with Fujiko and Hatsue. Eventually, however, the child will mature as they age, and with that age will come the knowledge that will allow the matured child to take responsibility for themselves. Hatsue has reached this point, yet this is something that Fujiko – despite knowing everything about Hatsue – does not understand.
Fujiko’s criticisms solidify her teachings to Hatsue, which ultimately results in Hatsue being able to take responsibility for herself, thereby allowing Hatsue to reclaim her independence. Before Fujiko is able to see this change in Hatsue, however, she decides to write a letter to the parents of Ishmael Chambers in order to ensure that her daughter will not continue to write to Ishmael in secrecy; once again, the mother takes responsibility for the child by constraining the actions of the child. The manner in which Fujiko writes the letter is very polite – a method through which Fujiko attempts to mitigate the perceived dishonour of the secrecy of the “children” (Guterman 1). This is the culmination of Fujiko’s role as a mother, and also the very reason she acts as she does: Fujiko views Hatsue and Ishmael as nothing more than children, and Fujiko knows that children are “often foolish” (Guterman 1). Parental instinct motivates Fujiko to continue protecting Hatsue, as she does by apologizing to the parents of Ishmael in Hatsue’s place. By apologizing in Hatsue’s place, it is revealed that Fujiko views Hatsue’s failure as her own failure as a mother – she believes that she failed in protecting Hatsue’s Japanese values. Prevention of further failure on the mother’s part is accomplished by increasing the restrictions on the daughter’s actions, which naturally results in a greater loss of independence for the daughter. This is the cause of conflict between the mother and the daughter: the mother protects the daughter by limiting the daughter’s independence, while independence is what the daughter truly desires. Parental instinct will ensure that Fujiko does not relieve herself of her responsibility to protect Hatsue until Hatsue herself proves that she can take responsibility for herself. When Fujiko shows the letter that she has written to Hatsue, Fujiko notes that Hatsue appears much different from how she was before. Hatsue has changed; the child has grown into an adult. Even Fujiko notices this, as is shown when she asks Hatsue, “And is it straighten out now, Hatsue? Is it straighten?” (Guterman 2). This can be seen as Fujiko placing her trust in Hatsue: the mother is asking the daughter if she has managed to solve the problem on her own, instead of guiding her to the answer as Fujiko had initially planned. Trust is developed between the two in that Fujiko trusts Hatsue to protect herself from the dangers that Fujiko has sheltered Hatsue from. The fact that Fujiko even asks Hatsue can be seen as a reaffirmation that Fujiko has begun to trust Hatsue again – Fujiko is not afraid that Hatsue may lie to her. When Hatsue gives an answer in the affirmative, Fujiko decides that the time has come for her to step back as a parent and let Hatsue follow the ideals she has set for her. This moment only occurs when Hatsue confirms her belief in the ideals of her mother, while also acknowledging her own foolishness as a child. Mutual understanding is finally achieved: the mother sees how the child has grown into a woman, while the child is able to understand that the mother’s greatest desire was the protection of the child. Understanding solidifies the trust between mother and daughter which allows responsibility to be transferred from mother to daughter. The final image of Fujiko tearing the letter she had written solidifies this idea, and is symbolic of this shift in responsibility.
An individual may limit the independence of those in their care in order to protect them from perceived dangers, which will be resisted by the protected individual as they struggle for their independence. For Fujiko, her greatest responsibility was maintaining traditional Japanese, and defend these ideals against the American ideals that run rampant in American society. She accomplished this by restricting the actions of her children to the values and beliefs of their Japanese ancestors. It is only when her daughter demonstrates an ability to adequately protect her Japanese identity that Fujiko realizes the necessity of passing on her responsibility to her child. Like Fujiko, parents of all generations experience the moment where sovereignty over the actions of their matured child must be relinquished. This moment goes against the parental instincts of the parent for it requires that the parent forego their greatest responsibility of protecting their children; however, this moment is necessary in that it is this moment that signifies the greatest growth in maturity not only for the child, but for the parent as well.