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Snow Falling on Cedars

David Guterson

Chapters 22–24

Chapters 19–21

Chapters 25–29

Summary: Chapter 22

People don’t have to be unfair, do they?

(See Important Quotations Explained)

The electricity is still out in the courtroom, so Judge Fielding calls a recess. Ishmael swings by his office to pick up his camera to take pictures of the storm for the paper. Driving carefully along the island’s icy roads, he photographs numerous overturned cars and other scenes of the storm’s destruction. On one road, he encounters the Imada family; the car Hatsue and Hisao have been riding in has gotten stuck in the snow, leaving them stranded. Ishmael persuades the Imadas to accept a ride home. There is an uncomfortable silence in the car until Hatsue finally breaks it, complaining that Kabuo’s trial is unfair. She implies that it is Ishmael’s responsibility as a newspaper editor to defend Kabuo in his publication.

Summary: Chapter 23

After dropping the Imadas off at their home, Ishmael visits the archives at the coast guard lighthouse to compare the present blizzard to past winter storms. Meanwhile, he thinks back on his first encounter with Hatsue after the war, when he ran into her at the grocery store. Hatsue noticed his arm and expressed regret for his injury. Staring at her newborn baby, Ishmael angrily replied, “The Japs did it.” Hatsue treated him coldly after this remark, ignoring his profuse apologies. In a later encounter, Ishmael found Hatsue alone on the beach and begged her to let him hold her one more time. She refused, asking him to leave her alone.

At the lighthouse archives, Ishmael reads over the radio--transmission records for the night of Carl Heine’s death. The records show that a large freighter, the S. S. West Corona, radioed for assistance in navigating the thick fog. The radioman on duty at the lighthouse that night advised the Corona to proceed through Ship Channel Bank—the area where Carl was fishing that night—to get back on course. According to the records, the Corona passed through Ship Channel Bank at 1:42 A.M., just five minutes before Carl’s watch stopped when he fell overboard. Ishmael realizes that, as a large freighter, the Corona would have produced waves easily large enough to upend Carl’s boat and knock him overboard.

Ishmael steals one of the carbon copies of the lighthouse report from that night’s log. Then, talking to one of the lighthouse attendants, he learns that Milholland, who was the radioman the night of Carl’s death, was transferred off of San Piedro the morning following the incident. With Milholland gone, Ishmael is the only one who could know about the connection between the Corona and Carl’s death.

Summary: Chapter 24

“Everything else is ambiguous. Everything else is emotions and hunches. At least the facts you can cling to; the emotions just float away.”

(See Important Quotations Explained)

Ishmael visits his mother, Helen Chambers, and talks about the case against Kabuo. He lies to his mother, telling her he thinks Kabuo is guilty. Helen, an elegant and educated woman reminiscent of Eleanor Roosevelt, fears that the evidence in the case is circumstantial and incomplete. She wonders if there are ever enough facts to make a conclusive judgment for a punishment as serious as a death sentence. Helen also says that she sees a cold remorselessness in Ishmael, the product of his experience in the war. Since coming back from the war, he has had only shallow, loveless, and infrequent relationships with women—a fact that dismays Helen. She tells him he must get over the psychological wounds of his war years and resume a normal life.

After talking with his mother, Ishmael rereads Hatsue’s years-old letter telling him that she does not love him anymore and that she is breaking off the relationship. Ishmael knows that Hatsue realized this loss of love when they began having sex the day before she left for the internment camp. As Hatsue has requested, Ishmael decides to write a newspaper article defending Kabuo, knowing that if he does so, Hatsue will be in his debt.

Analysis : Chapters 22–24

Just as Carl Heine struggled with the decision over whether to bury his grudges and make up for past wrongs, now Ishmael must decide whether to use his power to help Hatsue. Hatsue wants Ishmael to write an editorial about the role racism has played in Kabuo’s arrest and trial. Ishmael, however, is reluctant to raise this issue because he still harbors a desire for revenge against Hatsue and the Japanese. When Ishmael finds the lighthouse report that exonerates Kabuo, his dilemma becomes even more urgent. With the trial coming to a close, Ishmael must quickly make the difficult decision of whether to come forward with the evidence. At the end of Chapter 24, when Ishmael decides to write the editorial Hatsue has requested, it initially seems that he has merely reached a decision to comply with her wishes. It proves to be more complicated than that, since Ishmael indicates that his decision to write the editorial is not purely out of concern for Hatsue but also out of a realization that penning the editorial would put Hatsue in his debt. Ishmael struggles to reconcile his simultaneous love and resentment for Hatsue—a struggle that forces Ishmael to choose between desire to get revenge on Hatsue and his desire to live up to his father’s legacy of journalistic integrity.

Indeed, the flashbacks of Chapter 23 demonstrate just how strong—and conflicted—Ishmael’s feelings for Hatsue are. When Ishmael first sees her after returning from the war, he pointedly expresses his hatred of “the Japs,” hinting that she shares part of the blame for his missing arm. In their next encounter, Ishmael suddenly expresses his desire to hold Hatsue one last time. Later, Ishmael lies to his mother about Kabuo’s guilt, even after he finds the lighthouse report that clearly exonerates him. Ishmael cannot move on from his wounds from love and war, unable to mediate between his feelings and beliefs. Guterson suggests a subtle parallel between Ishmael’s immature unwillingness to move beyond his own disappointments and a larger social immaturity that leads to racism, prejudice, and even war.

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