Snow Falling on Cedars

Ishmael's Story: A Fragmented Bildungsroman 11th Grade

In David Guterson’s award-winning 1994 novel Snow Falling on Cedars, the story centers around the murder trial of Kabuo Miyamoto, using the testimony as a vehicle to tell a multigenerational story about the island’s fraught history from the perspective of many different characters. With each testimony and flashback, the reader gets a small, fractured piece of each character’s identity and personal history that they must stitch together to create a holistic profile of the character. For some, the sum of these pieces is large, painting a thorough picture of the character’s identity and growth. For others, the reader are given mere wisps of information. Throughout the book, the character who gets arguably the most time and development dedicated to his story is a figure whose connection to the trial, at least at the beginning, seems merely tangential: Ishmael Chambers, the reporter. Through fragmented pieces of testimony, flashback, and dialogue, Gutterson tells a rich, holistic, and arcing story of Ishmael’s coming-of-age from ten years old to his mid-thirties. In this way, the novel becomes a sort of fragmented bildungsroman about Ishmael and his eternal quest to “recognize his place in the world” (Howe). Though Ishmael gets his...

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