Snow Falling on Cedars

Snow Falling on Cedars Summary and Analysis of Chapters 15-18

The Japanese residents of San Piedro, after gathering at the ferry, travel by train for California and the relocation camp Manzanar. Suffering atrocious, unhygienic conditions and poor food for four days, they arrive. After another four days, a young married couple commit suicide.

Upon settling into the camp, Hatsue's younger sister Sumiko discovers a love letter from Ishmael and reads it over several times before handing it dutifully over to her mother, who wonders what Hatsue can possibly know about love. Fumiko, herself, had been a romantic sort of girl, but upon her arrival in America she had learned that love was something practical. She tells Hatsue that she must never write to the boy again. After recovering from her shock, Hatsue confides that she has already decided that the relationship has been wrong. Her mother now commands her to write a letter.

Kabuo arrives shortly thereafter and, after offering to make furniture for Fumiko's family, it becomes clear that he admires Hatsue. Hatsue, still adapting emotionally to the end of her relationship with Ishmael, gradually warms to Kabuo. She realizes that they share a similar dream of owning a strawberry farm. After he kisses her for the first time, she is surprised by how different it feels from kissing Ishmael. Kabuo's kiss is far less gentle.

Meanwhile, Ishmael trains as a marine rifleman for combat in the Pacific theater. Prior to a battle, someone tells him it is his last chance to write a letter. He lifts his pen and begins to write to Hatsue, telling her that he hates her, but he throws the letter into the sea. As he lands on the beach, shells fall over his head, followed by gunfire, and marines die all around him. Ishmael is struck, especially, by the memory of Eric Bledsoe, a young man hit in the knee and calling for help. A part of him desires to save the man, but another part numbly refuses. In the end, he sees Eric's leg slowly come off into the sea. Later, a bullet strikes Ishmael in the arm, splintering the bone. After the amputation, he wakes only to see his arm disturbingly cast on the floor, like trash.

Now, back at the trial, Art takes the witness stand a second time to testify about the length of rope discovered on Carl's boat that had failed to match the rest. After procuring a search warrant from Judge Fielding, Art found that Kabuo's mooring lines matched the one found on Carl's boat. After Kabuo insisted he had not killed Carl, Art further discovered that one of the mooring lines on Kabuo's boat had been stained by blood. Art looked into Kabuo's eyes and found he could not read the truth; it seemed that something had been concealed. Worried that Kabuo might flee, he made the arrest.


Fumiko sets an example for her daughter Hatsue and asserts a strong consciousness of her roots and her heritage. Fumiko, when she arrived in America in pursuit of a dream and an adventure, faced a harsh reality not uncommon to the immigrant experience. But, in the end, she and her husband Hisao arrived at a more realistic pursuit of their dream: having a family, hard and clear work, and living on an island that reminded them of their homeland. Hatsue and Kabuo develop a similar version of the dream: to own their own strawberry farm on the island.

Thus while Hatsue and Ishmael shared a youthful, idyllic love characterized by "gentler" kisses, Hatsue and Kabuo discover that their bond, while passionate, is also practical: they share a common heritage and, perhaps more importantly, a common vision of the future. Hatsue has inherited her mother's more mature idea of love which, while vividly romantic in her youth, had become something practical with Hisao. This kind of love draws its strength from both faith and forgiveness. Hatsue's conclusion that Kabuo's kiss is far less gentle than Ishmael's is an indication of this more mature love, on the one hand, while on the other hand it foreshadows the less gentle life she will lead with Kabuo.

Fumiko's rejection of her daughter's relationship with Ishmael asserts the cultural difference between the residents of Japanese ancestry in America and the white residents. Especially in view of the circumstances of the war and the internment of Japanese Americans, cultural difference becomes a defense for cultural rejection. Since white America, on a powerfully public level, was rejecting the faith and loyalty of the Japanese Americans, Fumiko, in her private realm, pushes her daughter to reject Ishmael. But Hatsue has arrived at the conclusion herself, via a different reasoning: she seeks to assert her cultural identity as something to be preserved and not something to overcome.

The loss of Ishmael's arm signifies his loss of Hatsue; she was integral to his life and now is gone from it. After the amputation, Ishmael experiences the presence of a "ghost arm" because his nerve endings remain intact. This feeling parallels his feelings for Hatsue. Though she is no longer the love in his life, he can still feel her there. The "ghost arm" indicates an attachment to the past via memory.

Note also Ishmael's emotional response to Eric Bledsoe, the boy he sees hit in the knee. One part of Ishmael desires to save him; the other part knows it is a bad idea and that he would probably die in the process. On one level, seeing Eric's leg come off into the sea foreshadows the loss of Ishmael's arm, but on a different level his "watching" parallels Ishmael's role during Kabuo's trial. Will Ishmael again do nothing, or will he act, in spite of himself, to save someone?

Finally, it is important to note that Judge Fielding strikes the reader as a good judge of character. When he states that Etta Heine is not trustworthy, readers can fully agree. The general issue turns on the extent to which a "good judge" can influence a "good outcome" for a judicial proceeding, guided both by rules and by the demands of expediency.

Art also judges when he looks into Kabuo's eyes after searching the boat for evidence. He determines that the man's eyes conceal the truth and that Kabuo is not a man to be trusted. Whether or not this judgment was correct remains to be revealed.