Literature has the ability to change our thinking.
Literature, particularly in the form of novels, provides us with an objective view of life. Much literature has underlying themes and messages that we can learn from; through it's practical application in the stories that form novels. In order to fully understand the world around us, we must be able to see points of view that other people hold. It is in this way that literature can produce such a strong impact as to have the ability to change our thinking.
Snow Falling on Cedars is one such novel that has the ability to change our thinking. This novel is set on a small island, San Piedro, off the coast of Washington state in northwest America. Guterson's choice of an island is effective on many levels; it represents both self-sufficiency and isolation. It is this isolation that leads to a rich content of character history from one resident to another, as the islands inhabitants are not merely neighbors, but inter-reliant partners in living.
The setting of an island also represents the inherent separation of the Japanese and American inhabitants of San Piedro; just as the island is separated from the mainland by ocean water, so too do self-imposed cultural barriers separate the two races. The inherent caution with which neighbors guard their relationships creates an atmosphere of tension, providing for a hothouse model of human racial barriers.
This novel's placement in time further contributes to its perfect modeling of racial tension and prejudice in an enclosed environment. Racism, fear and lack of understanding abound in the minds of San Piedro's inhabitants as they live in an environment of post World War II America, with the white population wary of Japanese who are struggling to rebuild their lives after being forced into cultural camps. This rebuilding provides for an atmosphere of conflict between the Kabuo and the Heine's as the former is left without the land previously worked by his family.