Snow Falling on Cedars

Snow Falling on Cedars Summary and Analysis of Chapters 23-26

Ishmael decides to investigate the events of the trial himself. Visiting the lighthouse, he asks chief petty officer Evan Powell if he can have the opportunity to examine the lighthouse records. Powell accepts his request and calls for the radioman Levant to offer him assistance. As Ishmael begins his search, his thoughts slide back to Hatsue and how he had reacted angrily to seeing her for the first time after the war. She had inquired about his arm, and he had said it was all because of "the Japs." Later, he had broken down and asked her for comfort. Refusing, she made it clear to him she was now another man's wife. As he dwells upon the past, Ishmael suddenly discovers the records of the night in question. A large freighter ship, the West Corona, had come through Ship Channel Bank. Ishmael knew a freighter of that size would create a wake large enough to upset a fishing boat. A man named Milholland had signed the record. Levant tells Ishmael that Milholland had left the San Piedro post on September 17, the day Carl's body was found, and the day Levant himself had arrived to take over the post.

Ishmael holds onto the records and visits his mother. Mrs. Helen Chambers tells Ishmael that Kabuo's trial illustrates the prejudice that still exists against the Japanese. Ishmael experiences a desire to tell his mother now about Hatsue, but finds he is unable to. Mrs. Chambers, well aware of her son's unhappiness (if not the exact reason), tells him the answer is for him to be married and have children. That night, surrounded by his father's books, Ishmael reads the letter Hatsue had sent to him long ago from Manzanar. It was the one that had stated their love was over.

On the morning of the third day of the trial, the defense calls its first witness, Hatsue. The narrative flashes back, using Hatsue's point of view, to when Kabuo's father Zenhichi had the foresight to bury the family swords and scrolls and the photograph of Kabuo's great-grandfather, the samurai, in the strawberry fields after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Zenhichi had since passed away of stomach cancer, and the family had lost everything. When Kabuo returned from the war, Hatsue sensed the depth of his wounds, further exacerbated by the injustice that had been done to his family. When the couple returned to San Piedro Island, they lived in a dilapidated house and Kabuo purchased a boat to make money fishing. He did not prove to be a very good fisherman, but the dream of eventually owning his own strawberry farm kept him hard at work. Hatsue, on the other hand, grew increasingly practical. On the witness stand, she describes how her husband came home from talking with Carl feeling elated. On the morning of September 16, he came home from fishing with the news that he had helped Carl with a dead battery at sea and that, during the night, they had reached an agreement as to the seven acres. Content, Kabuo went to sleep, and Hatsue later heard from the clerk at Petersen's general store that Carl's body had been found drowned.

In the cross-examination, Alvin Hooks asks Hatsue why she did not phone anyone immediately with the good news. Also, he asks why she and Kabuo waited so long to come forward with the truth. She answers that it was difficult: they knew that things looked bad. They believed silence would be better.

Nels calls Josiah Gillanders as his next witness. Josiah is the president of the San Piedro Gill-Netters Association, and he explains to the court the honor code in effect at sea. Generally, no one boards another boat except in an emergency. Then, everyone helps. It is impossible to force one's way onto another boat against another's will. Kabuo, Josiah conjectures, probably boarded the boat to help Carl with a spare engine. Ship Channel Bank was a dangerous place to be "dead in the water." He could not imagine anyone in their right mind planning a murder at sea, in that fog, in that place. It was too risky. In the cross-examination, however, Hooks offers an alternative: perhaps Kabuo had pretended his own engines were having trouble. Perhaps he had lured Carl's boat to his side before killing him. Josiah had to admit the possibility.


When Ishmael discovers the evidence at the lighthouse, the reader becomes convinced of Kabuo's innocence. The question turns then to Ishmael: what will he do with the truth? Will he bring it to light? If so, by what motivation? The answers remain to be seen. All the reader knows is that Ishmael does not act immediately on the truth. The reader may then recall the boy he had watched on the beach during the war: Ishmael had been conflicted about how to act. Though his inaction had been understandable then, it is not so much now. His decision will ultimately point the way in which he will come to terms with his past. Will he bury it and make it pure, as the snow covers the cedars? Will he inherit his father's place in the town? The questions are left open. As the narrative makes the issue of Kabuo's innocence certain, it shifts to the mystery of how Ishmael will act.

Ishmael's mother accentuates Ishmael's grief for Hatsue. When she tells him that the way of happiness is to marry and to have children, all he can think about is Hatsue. She is the only woman he has ever imagined being married to and having children with. Robbed of this possibility, his future seems empty, and he has a hard time envisioning the possibility of an alternative.

As the novel shifts back to the trial, with Hatsue on the witness stand, the narrative deepens our view of both Hatsue and Kabuo. After their marriage and after Kabuo's return from the war, Kabuo had become increasingly obsessed with the idea of reclaiming the family property, while Hatsue inherited more of her mother's practical outlook on the hardships dealt by life. The dream of the strawberry farm remains just a dream. At the same time, it represents something irretrievably precious about the innocence of their childhoods.

As Hatsue explains to the court, Kabuo had come home from his talk with Carl feeling hopeful. The effect of this moment in the testimony on the narrative as a whole is not unlike that of an eyelid beginning to wink open in the dark. After the dark and evil possibilities the prosecution has put forth, is it possible to believe that Kabuo had come home feeling "hopeful"? Is it possible to think that Kabuo had not been so overwhelmed by a need of revenge that he would go to the length of murdering Carl? To what extent can the community offer Kabuo the benefit of the doubt? Now that Hatsue has presented an alternative to the prosecution's story, which story is the jury likely to believe?

Finally, Josiah's testimony presents a counter-vision of the community that exists at sea. In opposition to the competitive image of "corking off" offered by the fishermen during the prosecution's case, Josiah shows how, in an emergency, all fishermen, even enemies, will come to a person's aid, in the understanding that such a good deed will be done to them in return. Each man while fishing may be his own island, but in an emergency the boats link; fishermen board one another's boats. The picture of Kabuo helping Carl with a dead battery makes perfect sense to Josiah. Not only is it reasonable, but it also shows the possibility that the two may have overcome an old wound for the sake of providing help. Kabuo, in this account, is a good man. He would not be the kind of man who seeks to kill in cold blood, but rather is the kind who seeks to build a bridge with his past--recovering an old friend and an old way of life. The prosecution, in contrast, has presented a darker, bleaker, less forgiving scenario.