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Snow Falling on Cedars

David Guterson

Chapters 19–21

Chapters 15–18

Chapters 22–24

Summary: Chapter 19

Back in the courtroom, Dr. Sterling Whitman, a hematologist (a blood specialist) from the mainland town of Anacortes, testifies that the blood on Kabuo’s fishing gaff is human blood, type B positive. This type matches Carl Heine’s and is relatively rare—only ten percent of white males are type B positive. Kabuo, on the other hand, is type O negative, so the blood clearly did not come from him. Though he does not say it explicitly, the prosecutor, Alvin Hooks, clearly implies that the gaff could be the weapon that caused Carl’s head wound.

Under cross-examination from Nels Gudmundsson, however, Dr. Sterling admits that he did not find any bone splinters, hair, or skin on the gaff—remnants that one would expect to find if the gaff had been used to inflict Carl’s head wound. Dr. Sterling says that it is more likely that the blood came from a minor wound the coroner found on Carl’s hand. In addition, he states that a full twenty percent of the Japanese population has B positive blood, so the blood on the gaff could have come from any of a number of the island’s Japanese residents.

After the morning recess, Army First Sergeant Victor Maples, who trained Kabuo’s regiment in hand-to-hand combat during the war, takes the stand. Sergeant Maples testifies that Kabuo demonstrated an incredible expertise at kendo during training, which impressed the sergeant deeply. In fact, Kabuo was so good at kendo that Maples asked Kabuo for instruction in the art. Maples tells the court that he believes Kabuo’s kendo skills could be used to kill a man far larger than himself. Perhaps most damning, Maples believes that Kabuo was not only capable but also willing to inflict violence on another man.

Summary: Chapter 20

The narrative flashes back to September 9, 1954, about a week before Carl’s death and two days after Kabuo showed up too late to purchase Ole Jurgensen’s land. Carl’s wife, Susan Marie, is at home. Kabuo stops by to talk to Carl about the sale of Ole’s land. As Carl and Kabuo discuss the matter outside, Susan Marie reflects upon her courtship with Carl. She remembers how she learned to take pleasure in her sexual attractiveness when she was about seventeen, and how at twenty she used that allure to pursue Carl.

Carl comes back inside and explains to his wife that Kabuo has asked to purchase the seven acres of land his father originally tried to buy. Carl is not sure how to act: he wants to do what is right, but his dislike for “Japs” makes him reluctant to sell the land. Also, Carl does not like the way Kabuo reacted when he said he had to think the matter over; he gets the impression that Kabuo expected Carl to hand over the land to him immediately. Susan Marie says nothing more about the matter, believing that it is not her place to probe her husband’s past. When Carl leaves, Susan Marie thinks about their marriage, and realizes that it is based only on sexual attraction. She worries about what will happen when their desire for each other fades.

Summary: Chapter 21

The narrative returns to the present, resuming its account of Kabuo’s trial. Susan Marie takes the stand to testify about the details of Kabuo’s visit on September 9. During Nels Gudmundsson’s cross-examination, she admits that she was not physically present during Carl and Kabuo’s conversation about the land. Additionally, Susan Marie concedes that Carl told her he had in fact given Kabuo some reason to hope that the seven acres would be available for purchase. During Susan Marie’s testimony, the blizzard raging outside knocks out the electricity in the courtroom.

Analysis : Chapters 19–21

This section provides new depth to the character of Susan Marie Heine. Up to this point, we know little about Susan Marie. Her muted reaction to the news of Carl’s death suggests that she has a stoic outlook on life. Similarly, in saying that she always knew that Carl’s death would happen like this one day, Susan Marie demonstrates the same kind of passivity in the face of uncontrollable forces that characterizes so many aspects of life on San Piedro. Her relationship with Carl is based only on sexual attraction, so she never fully understands her husband. She does not share the wounds of war and hatred that have plagued Carl, Horace, Ishmael, Kabuo, and others. Susan Marie respects Carl’s privacy about his past but also accepts that their relationship must always be limited as a result. Her ability to persevere after losing Carl suggests that such limitations are the compromises that must be made to function in a world governed by chance.

From Susan Marie’s testimony we learn that Carl faced a dilemma in deciding whether to sell the land to Kabuo. In his conversation with Susan Marie, Carl admitted his reluctance to sell the land to a “Jap” like Kabuo. Rather than blame his mother for cheating the Miyamotos and then sell the farm to others, Carl tacitly blamed the Japanese for forcing him to abandon his land to fight in the war. In this regard, Carl resembles Ishmael, who blames the Japanese for Hatsue’s rejection of him.

The testimonies of Dr. Sterling and Sergeant Maples show how the prosecution attempts to distort the evidence toward a guilty verdict in two ways. Sergeant Maples’s testimony is largely insubstantial and circumstantial, as Alvin Hooks attempts to twist the fact of Kabuo’s martial-arts skill into a stereotype of Japanese men as violent and murderous. His argument is not factual and attempts to play solely on the jurors’ prejudices. The hematologist’s testimony, in contrast, is based on fact, as the blood type found on the gaff is indeed somewhat uncommon. However, Alvin Hooks fails to mention that fully twenty percent of people of Japanese descent have this blood type. When Nels Gudmundsson makes us aware of this fact in his cross-examination, we realize that Hooks likely omits it on purpose. He has reported the facts only selectively, attempting to hide this bias behind the guise of science. In these testimonies, then, we see that Kabuo faces not only sensationalism and stereotyping, but also insidious attempts to contort even rational arguments in a way that makes him appear guilty.

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