Snow Falling on Cedars
Summary : Chapter 25
The narrative returns to the courtroom on the third day of Kabuo’s trial. Hatsue takes the stand, and Nels Gudmundsson questions her. She is outwardly calm during her testimony, but she struggles to suppress her nervousness. Hatsue tells the court that Kabuo remained optimistic about recovering his family’s land after his conversation with Ole Jurgensen, despite the fact that Ole had already accepted a down payment from Carl. Kabuo felt even more optimistic after speaking with Carl. Kabuo came home the morning of September 16 and told Hatsue that he came across Carl stranded in his boat and loaned him a battery. Kabuo said that Carl agreed to sell the seven acres of land to Kabuo for $8,400, leaving Kabuo jubilant.
Summary: Chapter 26
Alvin Hooks cross-examines Hatsue on the stand. He gets Hatsue to admit that upon learning of Carl’s death, she and Kabuo did not tell anyone about Kabuo’s interaction with Carl that night—the incident of the dead battery and Carl’s agreement to sell the land—because they feared Kabuo would fall under suspicion and would be accused of Carl’s death.
Next on the stand is Josiah Gillanders, the president of the San Piedro Gill-Netters Association. He testifies that gill-netters—fishermen like Carl and Kabuo—board each other’s boats only in cases of emergency. Tying two boats together is tricky, Gillanders adds, so it would be virtually impossible to board another man’s boat against his will. Despite the fact that minor disputes frequently arise between fishermen, no gill-netter would ever refuse to help another in an emergency. Alvin Hooks offers a hypothetical scenario: Kabuo pretends to have an emergency aboard his boat, asks Carl to tie up next to him and assist him, and then kills Carl with his gaff. Josiah admits that this scenario is indeed more plausible than a forced boarding scenario.
Summary: Chapter 27
The narrative flashes back to September, just after Carl’s death and Kabuo’s arrest. Nels Gudmundsson, who has been assigned to defend Kabuo, visits his client in jail. Kabuo denies that he spoke with Carl Heine the night of Carl’s death. Nels does not believe him. Kabuo admits that he lied because he did not expect to be trusted, citing the smoldering prejudice against Japanese-Americans on San Piedro. Kabuo explains that he was fishing in the impenetrable fog in Ship Channel Bank that night, just as Carl was. Kabuo tells Nels that he answered a distress signal from Carl’s boat. One of Carl’s batteries had run out of power, so the two fishermen tied their boats together and Kabuo loaned Carl a D-6 battery. Carl’s engine used D-8 batteries—a different size—so he used Kabuo’s fishing gaff as a hammer to bend the battery hold to accommodate the D-6 battery. Carl cut his hand in the process, leaving blood on the handle of the gaff.
After Kabuo finished assisting Carl, they had a tense conversation—Carl thanked Kabuo for his help and forthrightly admitted that he might not have done the same for Kabuo. Carl then mentioned the land, explaining that his mother sold it while he was off fighting “you goddamned Japs.” Kabuo angrily reminded Carl that he was an American citizen, not a Japanese one, and pointed out that Carl’s German ancestry never led Kabuo to call him a Nazi. Carl apologized again and offered to sell Kabuo the seven acres of land for $1,200 per acre, the same price Kabuo had agreed to pay Ole Jurgensen for it. Kabuo agreed immediately, and the two fishermen went their separate ways.
Summary: Chapter 28
The novel returns to the courtroom, with Kabuo now on the stand. Questioned by Alvin Hooks, Kabuo admits to lying when he was arrested. He acknowledges several details that he had not mentioned before, such as the fact that he replaced the D-6 battery he loaned Carl with a spare from his own shed. Kabuo claims that he was unwilling to cooperate with the police at first out of fear of being judged unfairly. Alvin Hooks emphasizes the inconsistencies in Kabuo’s story, saying, “You’re a hard man to trust, Mr. Miyamoto.”
Summary: Chapter 29
There are things in this universe that we cannot control, and then there are the things we can.
Alvin Hooks makes his closing arguments to the jury. He urges the jurors to imagine Carl in need of help and at the mercy of Kabuo, who leaps aboard Carl’s boat and kills him with the gaff. He implores the jury to look into the face of the accused man to determine his innocence or guilt.
Nels Gudmundsson then offers his closing argument, noting that there is no evidence to suggest Kabuo plotted a murder or had a motive to murder. Nor is there any hard evidence that foul play even occurred. Nels asserts that the trial is not about murder but about prejudice, reminding the jury that Kabuo’s face—the face of Japanese America—must not sway their feelings. They must judge him as an individual, an American, and a fellow member of their community.
Closing the trial, Judge Fielding reminds the jury that the charge against Kabuo is first-degree murder. Conviction on this serious charge requires a unanimous ruling by the jury. The judge reminds the jury that it must deliver a guilty verdict only if it is convinced of every element of the charge beyond a reasonable doubt. He reminds the jurors that if they have any reasonable uncertainty regarding the truth of the charges, they are bound by law to find Kabuo not guilty.
Analysis: Chapters 25–29
The testimonies in these chapters alternately address Kabuo’s identity within groups and his identity as an individual. This tension between the individual and the community is one of Guterson’s constant concerns in the novel, and here we see the different witnesses struggle to define Kabuo in terms of different communities. To Josiah Gillanders, Kabuo’s status as a gill-netter overshadows his identity as a Japanese American. When Kabuo assists Carl, it is their shared identity as fishermen that ultimately allows them to put their other differences aside. Carl decides to sell the seven acres to Kabuo because Kabuo has heeded the gill-netters’ implicit code of ethics. In their confrontation on the water, Kabuo directly challenges Carl’s prejudice and appeals to his reason as an individual. Kabuo also argues that though they are of different races, they are both Americans. They cannot build a relationship if they continue to consider each other “Japs” and hakujin. It is only when they encounter each other as fellow fishermen and fellow Americans that they put their prejudices aside.
Prosecutor Alvin Hooks, on the other hand, subtly tries to identify Kabuo as a member of the Japanese community rather than a fisherman. Knowing that the white jurors likely do not regard Japanese-Americans as full members of the San Piedro community, Hooks anticipates and plays on this prejudice in order to build his case against Kabuo. Hooks’s hypothetical scenario, in which Kabuo pretends to be in trouble in order to lure Carl Heine to his death, plays on these prejudices, relying on the stereotype of Japanese-Americans as treacherous, poker-faced, cold-blooded killers. Hooks subtly compares Kabuo to the wartime stereotype of the Japanese-American who professes loyalty to the United States while stabbing it in the back. When Hooks tells the jurors to look at Kabuo’s face and do their duty as citizens of their community, he implicitly wants them to look at Kabuo’s Japanese face—an outsider’s face. Hooks wants the jury to find Kabuo guilty because he looks physically different and is therefore not part of their community.
Guterson emphasizes the physical differences between Kabuo and Carl, suggesting that these disparities are what cause the community’s opposite perceptions of the two men. Carl embodied San Piedro’s ideal citizen: the silent, self-sufficient white fisherman. He was also a war veteran who, unlike the damaged Horace or Ishmael, was able to keep his past safely buried out of sight. The fact that his fellow fishermen hardly knew Carl—and even feared him to some extent—is no longer relevant. In death he is a hero of sorts. Kabuo, by contrast, is the villain but also the victim. A young man born and raised in America who served his country in war even as that same country left his family languishing in an internment camp, Kabuo should be considered a true hero. Yet upon his return to San Piedro he found a community that had no interest in helping him or his fellow Japanese Americans. Kabuo serves as a painful reminder and symbol of the white community’s guilt in allowing such discrimination to befall the Japanese-American community. Hooks’s plea that the jury do its citizenly duty by once again purging the “Japanese menace” offers the white community retroactive justification for the discrimination it practiced during the war.
Nels Gudmundsson is the only white person to address racism directly in Kabuo’s trial; even Ishmael is reluctant to admit that the jury might be biased. This reluctance stems partly from the white community’s collective guilt over its treatment of the Japanese. The lack of dialogue about racism also stems from the island community’s unwillingness to address conflict among its members. Individual disagreements must be muted in a small town and on a confined island where no one can afford to have too many enemies. Yet when disagreement is muted completely, the community is in danger of committing injustice, even when it operates under the guise of objectivity—as it purports to do during the trial.
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