Snow Falling on Cedars

Snow Falling on Cedars Summary and Analysis of Chapters 19-22

On the morning of December 7, Alvin Hooks calls his next witness, Dr. Sterling Whitman. Dr. Whitman is a hematologist (a blood specialist), and he has weathered the morning ferry through the snowstorm in order to testify that the blood on the mooring line found on Kabuo's boat was type B positive, which matches Carl's blood type. Kabuo's blood type, by contrast, is O negative. In the cross-examination, Nels draws attention to the blood having been found on the wooden handle end of the rope and not on the hook. Additionally, no bone or hair fragments accompanied the blood, indicating that the blood must have come from the wound on Carl's hand.

Next, three fishermen testify for the prosecution that Carl and Kabuo had been fishing in the same waters. Nels asks, in the cross-examination, if it is common for a fisherman to board another man's boat. The response is no, but that arguments have definitely occurred at sea. The fishermen call it "corking off" when one man reaches the fish first and sets his net in such a way that the flow of the fish never reaches the other man further downstream. Men have wasted a lot of time trying to monopolize the stream.

Alvin Hooks then calls Army First Sergeant Victor Maples, a man who has trained combat troops in Illinois. He remembers Kabuo distinctly, because he had demonstrated his kendo expertise and even given Maples an opportunity to train under him. He testifies that Kabuo definitely has the technical skill to kill a man with a fishing gaff.

Hooks calls Susan Marie Heine, Carl's wife, as the final witness. She strikes the audience as sensual and tragic as she begins her testimony. On September 9, Kabuo had come to her door, asking to speak to Carl, and the two of them had gone outdoors to discuss the strawberry farm Carl had agreed to purchase from Ole. As she tells her story, the narrative flashes back to when Susan Marie and Carl had met--their kisses against a cedar tree--and then, after they had married, when he had purchased the boat. He had named it for her, and they had made love there. The marriage was passionate. Returning to her testimony, Susan Marie states that she was never sure whether Carl and Kabuo were enemies or friends. When Carl had returned from his talk, he had told his wife that Kabuo had offered to purchase the same seven acres of land. He still had not decided what to do, and he confessed to her that it felt strange: Kabuo was Japanese, and besides, there were his dirty looks toward Etta. On the cross-examination, Nels highlights the fact that Susan Marie had not been present during the conversation; she could only testify regarding what she had heard her husband tell her, which was technically hearsay. (Nevertheless, because of the Dead Man's Statute, hearsay is admissible when the evidence might illuminate the reasons behind a man's death, if the conversation had been held with the dead man himself. Hence, Susan Marie's testimony is admissible.) Nels then seeks affirmation that Kabuo had never given either Carl or Susan Marie dirty looks. Only Etta reported such a thing.

Just as Nels concludes his cross-examination, the lights in the courthouse go out, and Alvin Hooks announces that the state rests. The judge announces that the trial will resume the next day.

As Ishmael heads to his mother's home, he sees Hisao's station wagon stuck in the snow. Hatsue is with him. Ishmael stops and offers his help, and when they fail to free the car, Ishmael drives them home. While driving, he and Hisao agree that, in spite of the trouble, the snow is breathtaking. Ishmael watches Hatsue from his rearview mirror as she begins to speak bitterly about the trial and about how unfair it all is--how Kabuo would never kill anyone--and that the accusation was the same as the relocation: driven by prejudice. Ishmael counters her by expressing his faith in the judicial system, but she rejects it; to her the whole trial is wrong. He says that she cannot expect fairness all the time, but she insists that, in a place like this, a place where both she and Kabuo have grown up their whole lives, a place where the community members know who they are, she feels she has a right to expect something more. Kabuo, in other words, deserves the benefit of the doubt.


As the evidence mounts against Kabuo, three fishermen testify against him and thus illustrate Kabuo's separateness from the "fraternity of fishermen." The picture they paint of life and work at sea takes on a competitive sport-like quality. "Corking off" is an activity that highlights the active greed that pushes men to hoard the fish for themselves. The competition parallels, in another venue, the conflict between Carl and Kabuo for the strawberry land. Was Carl willing to share the land at all, or was he intent on keeping all of the land for himself?

The testimony by Sergeant Maples is deeply ironic. Kabuo, though having proved his loyalty to his American citizenship by fighting in the war, now faces the betrayal of a man he had personally trained in kendo arts. When the Sergent testifies that Kabuo's skills make him capable of killing a man, this emphasis echoes the general betrayal that Japanese Americans faced during and after their terms of military service. In spite of Japanese Americans' proof of loyalty, white Americans still leapt to awful, false conclusions regarding their characters.

Through Susan Marie, we learn more of the kind of man Carl had been while alive. He had been passionate and attentive, but closed in a way that is similar to what Hatsue experiences in her relationship with Kabuo. Each man returned from the war with deep emotional wounds difficult to express or to heal. The similarity between the women's experiences in marriage during the period after the war highlights how personal experience ensures an inevitable, fundamental separateness, even in the most intimate of relationships.

Susan Marie's testimony makes clear that she was never sure whether her husband and Kabuo were friends or enemies. Etta testified that they were enemies, but the true status of their relationship remains unclear. The ambiguity in the relationship reflects the ambiguity in the relationship between white Americans and the Japanese residents more generally. In addition, the narrative clearly organizes Kabuo and Carl's lives as parallels: they are both American citizens, both have heritages made suspect during the war, and both are solitary by nature. They had lived as neighbors when they were young and had been childhood friends. Now, they are both grown, married, with children, with the same desire to own a strawberry farm. In other words, they are mirror images of one another or, at the very least, like brothers. The key difference, however, lies in their race.

As Susan Marie concludes her testimony, Ishmael considers the entire event of the trial in contrast to the snowstorm. The trial was "a human affair, [standing] squarely in the arena of human responsibility, ... no mere accident of wind and sea but instead a thing humans could make sense of. Its progress, its impact, its outcome, its meaning--these were in the hands of the people" (237). In other words, the legal system is within the control of human faculties, able to be guided by reason and fairness. Hatsue, however, confronts this possibility by claiming that the relocation and the trial were both unfair in the same way. In both cases, the law had been given force on unfair and unreasonable grounds. Residents of Japanese descent had suffered. Especially in the relocation, family had been separated; many had lost everything. Hatsue agrees that there is bound to be unfairness in the world; fortune is never fair. At the same time, she insists that a community has a particular responsibility to work for greater fairness. In living together, the community ought to have a stricter sense of justice, as well as a stricter intimacy with each of its citizens, than the island now has. Hatsue knows her husband is not a cold-blooded murderer. She is able to judge him fairly, based on her intimacy, in the same way that she had judged Ishmael to be good at heart. This conversation between Hatsue and Ishmael proves to be the turning point in the novel. From here the narrative begins to reveal more of the goodness Hatsue has so much faith in. She essentially asks, when she speaks bitterly to Ishmael, why cannot the community see Kabuo's goodness? In other words, can they see the goodness of human beings generally, without the blinders of prejudice?