Snow Falling on Cedars By David Guterson
Obviously, when reading a novel, the first thing you notice is the title. That’s a good thing because titles so often give keys to the motifs and symbols within the book. This is certainly the case with Snow Falling on Cedars, where three—possibly four—of the words are significant. Be sure to ponder “snow,” “falling,” and “cedars,” and if you want to, take a look at “on,” too. To start the ball rolling, “snow”: the dominant white presence, white-washing, disguising, and cold are ideas that come to mind, but there are many more, particularly when you remember that snow is an element of nature. Snow is personified (p. 5) by the author, so it’s perfectly fine for readers to do the same.
A Diverse Group of Characters
Unlike many of the other Reading Together selections, Snow Falling on Cedars is, more than anything else, a study of a diverse group of characters and how who each individually affects the other residents of San Piedro. What the characters do, of course, is important, but Guterson predicates these actions with in-depth looks at each distinct personality. An interesting exercise is to turn each character into an animal and to see if the animals would tend to interact in the same ways as the characters. Another is to try to think of five adjectives to describe each character.
Chapters 1 – 12, 17 -22, and 25 – 30, the preponderance of the chapters, begin in the courthouse. Why did Guterson structure the novel this way, and why don’t all the chapters begin there?
Two quotes precede the novel, one by Dante and the other by Harvey Oxenhorn. In what ways do they relate to the novel?
Guterson has given readers two maps of the area. Certainly, not all novels do. Why do you suppose they were included here?
If your group is reading the novel in several sections, you can discuss the questions that follow as you reach that section. If you are simply discussing the finished novel, you can pick and choose questions that seem pertinent to your discussion. If you are using this guide in place of a reading group while reading the novel on your own, please don’t read the questions for the chapter until you’ve read the chapter, so as not to spoil anything for yourself.
Chapters: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25 | 26 | 27 | 28 | 29 | 30 | 31 | 32 | Wrapping Up