Snow Falling on Cedars
Summary: Chapter 4
Judge Lew Fielding calls a brief recess in the trial. As the courtroom empties, Ishmael moves from the reporters’ table to a less conspicuous seat in the gallery, where he reflects on the death of Carl, whom he has known since childhood. Ishmael also muses on his own past: the loss of his arm in World War II, his later stint attending college in Seattle, and his decision to return to San Piedro to follow in the footsteps of his father, Arthur Chambers. Arthur, we learn, founded the San Piedro Review after working in the logging business and fighting in World War I. As the editor of the newspaper, Arthur was careful to print only what was true and accurate. Ishmael, though more sullen and cynical than his father, strives to do the same.
The narrative then flashes back to the day following Carl’s death. Art Moran is down at the docks, talking with local fishermen about who and what they saw while out on their rounds the previous night. Ishmael approaches the group to ask questions for the story he will print in the newspaper. The fishermen bristle at Ishmael’s presence, mistrustful of him because he earns his living with words rather than with his hands. Art is not pleased to see Ishmael either, fearing that he will spread rumors of murder in his newspaper. Ishmael agrees not to characterize Carl’s death as a murder on the condition that Art keep him up to date as the investigation goes forward.
Summary: Chapter 5
The narrative now moves to the office of the local coroner, Horace Whaley, who is also a practicing physician. Horace was unnerved by the experience of losing soldiers under his care in World War II. Horace considers himself a weakling and a failure, and he envies Carl Heine’s strong, well-built body as he examines Carl’s corpse. He even notices that Carl’s penis is twice the size of his own.
Examining the body, Horace discovers a foamy mixture of air, mucus, and seawater that suggests that Carl died from drowning. He later notices a deep wound on Carl’s head. Horace notes that the wound resembles wounds he saw during the war, on soldiers who had fought in hand-to-hand combat with Japanese soldiers trained in kendo, the art of stick fighting. Horace and Art puzzle over whether the wound was inflicted before or after Carl hit the water.
Summary: Chapter 6
The narrative returns to Kabuo’s trial. Nels Gudmundsson questions Horace Whaley on the stand. Nels gets the coroner to acknowledge that Carl must have still been breathing when he hit the water, based on the fact that a foamy mix of air, mucus, and seawater had been found in Carl’s lungs. Watching the trial, Art Moran remembers the moment he broke the news of Carl’s death to Carl’s wife, Susan Marie. She had stared mutely, in shock, and then matter-of-factly said she had always known it would happen one day.
Analysis: Chapters 4–6
The narrative in this section builds on the general details of the trial—its participants, its evidence, and the alleged crime for which Kabuo is accused—that Guterson presents in the first three chapters. Much as if we are reading a mystery novel or watching an actual trial, we learn about the alleged crime only through the testimony of various characters. Guterson narrates as if he were seated in the back of the courtroom, listening alongside the other spectators. At certain moments, however, he enters the minds of his characters to show us what they are thinking. For example, Chapter 5 begins with Horace testifying in the courtroom but it quickly switches time and perspective, jumping into Horace’s mind as he recollects performing the autopsy on Carl. Guterson continually jumps in time and place in this fashion, moving from the present to the past and from character to character. This narrative tactic ties the past and the present together and helps provide us with a psychological portrait of the entire community.
The portrait of San Piedro that emerges is complex and often ugly. Horace’s envy of Carl’s penis and the fishermen’s wariness toward Ishmael both suggest deep-rooted tension even within San Piedro’s white community, in addition to the tension between the whites and the Japanese. Horace, with his damaged nerves, and Ishmael, with his amputated arm, are acutely aware of their inferior status in the community relative to Carl. Horace and Ishmael are passive members of society, whereas Carl, a handsome war hero and hard worker, was an active one, fulfilling the San Piedro ideal. Horace and Ishmael feel marginalized because they are not ideal community members. Yet we learn that the Japanese have an even lower status in the community and are often treated as lesser citizens by its white residents.
Additionally, in this section we begin to see how firmly Ishmael is entrenched in the past. Though Ishmael’s look back on his past in Chapter 4 is completely understandable, since it is brought about by his reflection on growing up with Carl Heine, he dwells on his youth more than we might expect. Guterson hints that Ishmael felt compelled to follow in his father’s journalistic footsteps and now worries about living up to his father’s reputation for integrity and accuracy. Ishmael also dwells on his amputated arm—a defect that, as we begin to see, is a physical counterpart to the emotional void that exists in his life.
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