Mount Alvernia High School, Newton, Massachusetts

David  Guterson

Julia  Canty 

The Bataan Death March: Impact and Aftermath

The Search for Self Amidst Society's Rejection and Nature's Embrace in David Guterson's Novels

In all of David Gutersonís novels, the protagonists embark on a spiritual journey in order to discover their true identities. At first, the charactersí fear of disappointing the people they love causes them to avoid conflict and withhold the truth, which interferes with their forming more intimate connections. These characters also become trapped by the norms of society that restrict them from finding their true identities. This is evident in Snow Falling on Cedars, as the Japanese-American character, Kabuo Miyamoto, struggles with his dual cultural identities, both during World War II and in its aftermath when he is falsely accused of the murder of a white man. Although Kabuo is an innocent man, he feels the guilt from killing men during World War II, his only solace existing in the natural world. Nature is a place where all the characters feel peace and serenity, bringing them closer to understanding themselves and coming to terms with past sins. Through self-acceptance as well as the embrace of Mother Nature, Gutersonís central characters establish the identities that they have been searching for.

Similar to the struggles that Gutersonís characters faced, the soldiers in the Bataan Death March faced physical abuse, heartache and loss of identity at the hands of their Japanese guards. In the Bataan Death March, American and Filipino prisoners of war were forced to endure a 63-mile March that resulted in thousands of troops dying of malnourishment and abuse. This march occurred due to the vulnerability of the American and Filipino troops and their inability to withstand the Japanese enemy. The Japanese guards corrupted the minds of the prisoners and made them feel weak and unworthy of the life they were living. Between the physical and psychological abuse, along with the lack of support and basic necessities of life, the prisoners experienced emotional trauma that plagued them for decades after the March.

Major Works Consulted:

Cogan, Frances B. Captured: the Japanese Internment of American Civilians in the Philippines, 1941-1945. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2000.
Greenberger, Robert. The Bataan Death March. Minneapolis: Compass, 2009.
Guterson, David. East of the Mountains. New York: Vintage Contemporaries, 2013.
---. Snow Falling on Cedars. New York: Harcourt, 1995.
Picture Credit: Guterson, David. The Other. New York: Vintage Contemporaries, 2003.