Snow Falling on Cedars is a text that examines both human nature and the nature of truth. It is presented the closed world of San Peidro Island and the even more closed world of Amity Harbour Courthouse. The beauty of the novel and movie is that they portrait real life and real emotions. Snow Falling on Cedars exists in a disordered world, but this world is no more disordered than real life.
The story uses a type of parallel plot structure. One story involves the quest for the truth about the court case – did Kabuo Miyamoto, a Japanese-American, kill Carl Heine, a German-American? The other story involves the search for meaning in the life of Ishmael Chambers, the main character who is involved in the majority of flashbacks.
The life inside the courthouse is presented as being structured and neat – the courthouse is considered to be an ordered place. Everyone has his or her place and role within the court. There are the witnesses, the defendant, the defence counsel, the prosecution, the judge and all other court personnel. Everything appears to be working as it should.
In a traditional courtroom drama, the characters are one dimensional, and a merely there to advance the plot of the murder trial. However, David Guterson skilfully uses flashbacks to explore the real emotions and feelings of the characters in order to make Snow Falling on Cedars an in-depth and meaningful exploration of the human condition. It is the flashbacks that Ishmael, Kabuo and the other characters experience, which betrays their true feelin…
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…el reveals the evidence he discovered at the shipping headquarters, throwing court procedure into disarray and the charges against Kabuo are dismissed. Here, the ordered world of the court is shown to be superficial and quite delicately maintained.
Snow Falling on Cedars is gingerly placed inside the Courtroom Drama sub-genre. Essentially, it is a courtroom drama that is not really about a court case. Snow Falling on Cedars concerns itself with exposing the truth about human nature and emotions; specifically prejudice, love and hate. It uses the trial of Kabuo Miyamoto to carry the story forward and expose these ugly truths. Like real life, the world of Snow Falling on Cedars is disordered. The very thing that is supposed to be the epitome of order, the court, is actually a façade – hiding the disorder of individual prejudice, emotion and fate.
Reality and Illusion in Shakespeare’s Hamlet – The Deception of Appearance
Appearance versus Reality in Hamlet
Hamlet is organized around various pairs of opposing forces. One of these forces is the difference between that what seems and that which actually is, in other words, appearance versus reality. What is, and what merely appears to be? We can discern two principal angles from which this question is approached in Hamlet. First, we have the angle of inward and outward emotions, and the profound distinction that is drawn between them. In other words, the tranquil face that we all show to the world is never the same as the turmoil of our souls. In Hamlet, Shakespeare explores this both explicitly, through the device of the play within the play, and implicitly, through the ways in which he uses the forms and conventions of theater to explore the aforementioned emotional dichotomy. There is also the dichotomy of knowledge that is essential to the Judeo-Christian religious tradition. God, in this tradition, is considered to be omniscient, and thus knows how all things actually are. Mere human beings, on the other hand, can only, as in Plato’s allegory of the cave, know how things seem. They have only flawed knowledge. Over the course of Hamlet, we repeatedly perceive characters who focus on things that seem, as well as those who focus on what actually is. This dichotomy is fundamental to our understanding of the play.
Before launching into the body of this exposition, it is necessary that we define a few important terms. By “being”, or that which “actually is”, I mean those things that exist in the objective reality that might be perceived by some so-called omnipotent being. The flawed knowledge of non-omniscient humans – that which we see every day – is represented by the word “…
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…for example, the death of Ophelia occurs offstage. Why? To shroud it in mystery. To keep that which seems – and that which the characters see – apart from the world of reality.
All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players.
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.
Shakespeare, As You Like It, 2.7.139-143
Berkeley, George. A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge. 1710. Ed. Kenneth Winkler. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1982.
Berman, Allison. “We Only Find Ourselves.” Hamlet reaction papers. Wynnewood: FCS, 2000.
Lugo, Michael. “Thus Conscience Does Make Cowards of Us All.” Hamlet reaction papers. Wynnewood: FCS, 2000.
Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. 1600? Ed. Sylvan Barnet. New York: Signet Classic, 1998.