Research Paper: English Literature Race, Regionalism

Pages: 10 (3806 words)  ·  Style: MLA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 6  ·  Level: College Junior  ·  Topic: Race  ·  Buy This Paper

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[. . .] This bigotry was obvious in many aspects of human interaction, including in the legal system, particularly if a member of the minority culture was involved in or even suspected of an action against or with a member of the majority culture. According to sociologist Richard Brislan, there can be a danger when a stereotype becomes so ingrained that the population does not understand it as being a generality and instead accepts it as truth. He argues that:

[Stereotypes] become dangerous when people move beyond stereotyping and make decisions based on their stereotypes…In many cultures, stereotypes of certain groups are so negative, are so pervasive, and have existed for so many generations that they can be considered part of the culture into which children are socialized. In these cases, the stereotypes become part of people's prejudiced feelings about other groups. (Dypedahl 14)

In large communities, such as metropolitan cities, it is more likely than in rural areas that the possibility to confront and overcome prejudices exists. The smaller the community, the less likely it is to overcome these biases and the stronger the negative impact of the prejudices of the majority population. The separation of individuals within a community is a popular component of literary regionalism (Campbell). The social stratification in a given area is an important part of the community and is often reflected in fictional works representing the same region. For example, during and following World War II, both anti-German and anti-Japanese attitudes were extremely high. It is Kazuo's Japanese ancestry that creates the bulk of the antagonism against him, which leads him to be put on trial for the murder of Carl, Jr.

The divisive and segregationist attitudes that are prevalent on the island are reflected in the weather. A heavy snowstorm has fallen and continues as the trial progresses. The weather does not turn dangerous until the accusations have been made, the murder has occurred, and the trial begins. The weather is peaceful or at least less tense when race relations in the town are not high. In the film, the snow is portrayed as extremely thick, covering the entire island in a layer of white. Haytock states:

Like the snow, the issues surrounding Kazuo's trial blur the 'clean contours' of the truth, and its 'gentle implacability' reflects the quiet but ever-present racism of the island community, a hatred that cannot be faced or avoided. (24)

The snow sets the stage for the trial by providing a natural or regional representation of what is going on because it suggests that the very island itself is the part of the racism. As the story progresses and the likelihood of Kazuo's receiving a verdict of guilty becomes more likely, the storm outside the courtroom windows becomes harsher and more dangerous. The snow is blinding just as the prejudice of the white people in the town blind them to human virtues such as a sense of justice, despite cultural differences. While the trial goes on, the winds rattle the window panes, power lines go down all over the island, and even cars are blown into ditches by the force of the wind. Author Michael Bayly describes the film's weather as symbolic. He says:

The film re-presents the human condition as a condition that is multi-layered. It is a condition that is awash with ambiguity, with things in process of revelation. The film's very look and flow emphasizes this understanding of the human condition. Plot details, for instance, are layered -- with events revealed in a gradual, accumulative manner, like the falling and drifting snow of the film's blizzard. (Bayly)

In a similar way, everyone on the island is impacted by the storm, which is related to the fact that everyone is impacted by the racial biases and the trial of Kazuo. The people involved in the proceedings cannot even leave the courthouse after the judge orders a recess for the day because the weather is so perilous. In the movie, when people are trapped in the courthouse because of the snow, it is like they are trapped in a system that judges people not upon legally acquired evidence, but by judging people racially. The land/region keeps people stuck in the courtroom and metaphorically stuck in the system. Trapped isolation of the courthouse is like the trapped isolation of the island. In the island, people are stuck to and with each other in this racist situation. Even though there are tensions that are racially motivated, they are stuck. It shows that the impossibility of escaping. Thus the storm and all the other adverse weather conditions that are described in the book represent the real world difficulties in which individuals on the island must face in their lives and of which they have little if any control. What is possible is their ability to come together to face the storm and come together as a town.

As a town, race and ethnicity serve as divisive classifications in Snow Falling on Cedars. On the island, Kazuo Miyamoto is defended by Nels Gudmundsson, while being prosecuted by Alvin Hooks. Interestingly, the name Gudmundsson illustrates a German or Scandinavian heritage, notably, not a typical American name; it is a name of a foreigner. In this sense, the foreigners are on one side, and the Americans are on the other. Hooks, on the other hand, is a clearly Anglophone name. Hooks plays on the stereotypes of the Japanese and the innate prejudices of the jury by telling them to examine Kazuo and see him as "hard man to trust" (Snow). Those who are ethnically associated with the American enemies of the Second World War are put against those who have a heritage associated with the allies of the Americans. Carl Heine's mother, Etta, is a major witness for the prosecution. She believes wholeheartedly that Kazuo is guilty despite the fact that there is little evidence against him. His guilt is in being a man of Japanese heritage and having dared to go beyond his socially limited position and try to become a landowner and therefore symbolically equal to the white population (Dypedahl 15). It is ironic though, as she is fervently prejudiced against those who are not "American," yet it is clear that her accent is not American and that she may be a first or second generation immigrant with a Germanic or Slavic heritage. Germans were the primary enemy of WWII and the Japanese were also enemies of the Americans. The irony is that one person with heritage of the enemy is welcomed as American and another who has the heritage of another, lesser enemy is put on trial, almost irrationally. Anything Kazuo has done, including being a war hero who served for the United States in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, cannot make up for the fact that he is part of the minority group. It is assumed that Japanese-Americans are only loyal to themselves, just as it is assumed that the white people will be loyal to themselves. This assumption is reinforced by the dialogue of the white characters, except Kazuo's lawyer and Ishmael's father, who seem to be the only whites who are not preoccupied with prejudice. It is not just about where person comes from, the greater importance, as the prejudiced whites in the film content, is who a person is. The German population of the United States was never served with the same denigration as the Japanese and so Etta is not treated with the same disdain as the Japanese-American man who stands trial. The dialogue of the film illustrates just how divided the two communities are.

The attitudes of racial prejudice occur in the supposed motive for the murder, a desire over land. Kazuo and his family wanted to purchase some land from Carl Heine Sr., his former employer and had been giving the elder man money for a decade. Unfortunately, after years of prompt payment, the Second World War intervened and changed the fate of all the people of the world, including the fictional characters of this story. The payments stopped during the war when Kazuo and family, not to mention Hatsue's family, were forcibly removed because of the Japanese internment program, a legal ordinance which was forced on Japanese-Americans out of fear that they might somehow be connected to the Japanese government who were at war with the United States. Following the recommendation of Lieutenant General John L. Dewitt, then Commander of the Western Defense Command, Japanese first and second generation Americans were rounded up and placed into camps. According to Gen. Dewitt:

The Japanese race is an enemy race…racial affinities are not severed by migration…[The] very fact that no sabotage has taken place to date…[was a] disturbing and confirming indication that such action will be taken (Dypedhal 6-7).

Just as the Japanese were imprisoned without evidence of the desire to sabotage,… [END OF PREVIEW]

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English Literature Race, Regionalism.  (2012, December 2).  Retrieved May 23, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/english-literature-race-regionalism/9720237

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"English Literature Race, Regionalism."  2 December 2012.  Web.  23 May 2019. <https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/english-literature-race-regionalism/9720237>.

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"English Literature Race, Regionalism."  Essaytown.com.  December 2, 2012.  Accessed May 23, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/english-literature-race-regionalism/9720237.