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Snow Falling on Cedars

David Guterson

Chapters 11–14

Chapters 7–10

Chapters 15–18

Summary: Chapter 11

He would have to . . . accept that the mountain of his violent sins was too large to climb in this lifetime.

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Kabuo is in his cell during the court recess, staring at the lunch he has not touched. He looks at his reflection in a hand mirror, realizing that he looks cold and hateful. He thinks about all he has missed since he was put in jail: autumn’s changing leaves, the squash harvest, and the fall rains. He remembers taking his family to a nearby island for a day of picnicking in August. His mind wanders further into the past, remembering Hatsue as a teenager, picking strawberries on a San Piedro farm.

Kabuo also remembers his argument with Hatsue about his decision to volunteer for the army. Kabuo felt he had to prove something, whereas Hatsue feared he would die or return as a war-hardened monster. Kabuo also recalls his childhood, when at age eight his father began training him in kendo. By the time Kabuo was sixteen, no one on the island could defeat him in kendo. While the older Japanese men still regarded his father as the superior martial artist, they all sensed a warrior’s dark ferocity in Kabuo. In light of his war murders, Kabuo now agrees with them. He concludes that the trial is simply one more bit of suffering that he must undergo to pay for the lives he took while fighting for America in World War II.

Summary: Chapter 12

When they looked out into the whiteness of the world the wind flung it sharply at their narrowed eyes and foreshortened their view of everything.

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As the snowstorm grows in ferocity and envelops the island, Ishmael remembers the hollow cedar tree where he and Hatsue often met. In public and at school, they pretended to be only casual acquaintances. Hatsue’s emotional reserve often upset Ishmael, but she always justified it by claiming that her parents had trained her to avoid emotional displays. Though she cared about Ishmael, Hatsue was deeply bothered that her relationship with him required her to deceive her parents constantly.

In the fall of 1941, Ishmael and Hatsue began to worry about the war. They were seniors in high school and Hatsue was named the strawberry princess in that year’s festival. Though life seemed full, Hatsue and Ishmael were afraid of the future and the changes the war might bring in their lives. From inside the cedar tree, however, the war and its concerns still seemed far away.

Summary: Chapter 13

The narrative flashes back to December 1941. The Japanese have just bombed Pearl Harbor. The Imadas and the rest of the Japanese community in San Piedro anxiously crouch around their radios to hear the news. Arthur Chambers publishes a special war edition of the San Piedro Review, including information about San Piedro’s air-raid safety measures along with an article reporting that San Piedro’s Japanese residents have pledged their loyalty to the United States. Arthur points out that while some Japanese Americans’ bank accounts have been frozen, no one has even thought to treat the islanders of German descent as possible traitors.

Arthur’s supportive stance toward the Japanese-American community earns him threats and angry letters from customers canceling their subscriptions but also letters of support from other people who condemn racism. Arthur publishes all the letters, whether they are supportive or reproachful. Ishmael objects to his father’s statements of support for the Japanese, saying the paper should publish only facts, not opinions. Arthur responds, “But which facts? Which facts do we print, Ishmael?”

Summary: Chapter 14

The narrative jumps ahead a few months to February 1942. Two FBI agents arrive to search the Imadas’ home and confiscate any and all vestiges of the “old country,” including a kimono and a bamboo flute. The agents discover a shotgun and some dynamite Hisao uses to clear fields for strawberry planting. According to wartime orders, these items are illegal, so the agents arrest Hisao and take him away.

The government sends Hisao to Montana to dig trenches in a work camp. Fujiko, left with her daughters, tells them the story of how she came to the United States from Japan. She says that she endured hardship and hatred from the hakujin, or white people. Now, she predicts, the family will have to endure more hardship.

In the cedar tree with Ishmael, Hatsue worries about their future and tries to be realistic. Ishmael is certain that things will turn out fine, arguing that their love for each other will overcome all obstacles. They kiss, but Hatsue is not convinced. Several weeks later, the U. S. War Relocation Authority orders all Japanese-Americans on the island to prepare for internment. In the cedar tree, Ishmael hatches an elaborate plan to communicate with Hatsue by mail. The two teenagers start to have sex, but Hatsue makes Ishmael stop, crying out in despair. Ishmael asks Hatsue to marry him, but she refuses, saying that she feels that everything about their relationship is wrong. Hatsue runs from the tree, leaving Ishmael for the last time. The next day she and her family depart for the internment camp.

Analysis: Chapters 11–14

This section affords us the first glimpse of the world through Kabuo’s eyes. The manner in which Kabuo physically looks at the world reflects his feelings about justice, destiny, and life. As he looks at his reflection in Chapter 11, for example, he sees a hard, blank stare from eyes that “[do] not so much seem to stare right through things as to stare past the present state of the world into a world that was permanently in the distance . . . and at the same time more immediate than the present.” Kabuo feels that he does not have control over his present world, so he constantly looks ahead to what he fears will be his future. He fears that his fate has already been decided for him; he realizes that the jury likely interprets his facial expression as haughty and remorseless and will therefore find him guilty. Kabuo accepts his fate, believing that he must pay for the sin of taking lives in the war. He feels that he deserves a guilty verdict even though he is innocent of Carl’s death; he believes that murder is murder and that justice is inescapable. Kabuo’s posture and stare reflect this stony fatalism and his conviction that his destiny is not in his hands.

Fujiko also has a highly fatalistic worldview. She sees the war and her family’s internment as proof that there can never be understanding between the Japanese and the hakujin. Fujiko predicts that the war will force her family to become more immersed in Japanese culture, as they will all endure the war’s hardships together. When Hatsue protests that not all hakujin hate the Japanese, Fujiko counters that hakujin are egotistical and therefore fundamentally different from the Japanese. Fujiko believes that living among the hakujin will make Hatsue impure. Ironically, it is only the harsh experience of internment that enables Fujiko to keep her daughters isolated from the whites.

Ishmael’s beliefs contrast sharply with Kabuo’s and Fujiko’s. Ishmael insists that his love for Hatsue will triumph over the divisions that arise from their different ethnic backgrounds. He even believes that they will maintain their romance after she is sent to the internment camp. Ishmael holds out this hope because he firmly—and very naïvely—believes that life always makes sense and is always fair. Ishmael’s naïveté is further illustrated by his objection to his father’s editorial policy. When Ishmael tells his father to print only the facts, he shows his simplistic faith that facts will lead to truth and that truth will lead to justice. The real world is far more complicated than Ishmael is willing to admit. Unlike Fujiko’s resentment and Kabuo’s fatalism, Ishmael’s outlook is based entirely on naïve idealism and the hope that justice, love, and his desire for Hatsue will prevail.

Hatsue’s beliefs fall somewhere between those of Ishmael, Kabuo, and Fujiko. Hatsue shares her mother’s fears for the future and feels guilty for deceiving her parents about her relationship with Ishmael. Yet when Fujiko tells her that she should avoid hakujin, Hatsue disagrees, arguing that people should be judged as individuals rather than stereotyped as members of groups. Hatsue wants to believe that the Japanese and whites can get along because she wants to believe that her love for Ishmael—which feels right when she is in the cedar tree, safe from the realities of the outside world—can exist despite racial differences. Just as the cedar tree cannot shelter her forever, however, Hatsue cannot keep the outside world away. She comes to this realization at the very moment Ishmael tries to have sex with her. Hatsue must make a choice between the two worlds and the two systems of belief. As she pushes Ishmael away, she starts to embrace Fujiko’s fatalistic view of the world. As Ishmael tries to enter her, she literally and figuratively shuts him out.

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