- The novel’s protagonist. Ishmael is the thirty-one-year-old
editor of the local paper, the San Piedro Review. He is a World
War II veteran, and a gunshot in the war has left him with an amputated
left arm. As a young boy, Ishmael had a deep friendship with a local Japanese-American
girl, Hatsue Imada. But Hatsue eventually called an abrupt end to
the relationship and married Kabuo Miyamoto, leaving Ishmael bitter
in-depth analysis of Ishmael Chambers.
- Kabuo’s wife, whose maiden name is Hatsue Imada.
Hatsue and Ishmael became friends as small children, and by the
time they entered their adolescence, Ishmael had fallen in love
with her. Hatsue, however, always experienced doubt regarding the
nature of her feelings for Ishmael. Throughout her life, Hatsue
is torn between her Japanese culture and family background and her
desire for a world without societal pressures and prejudices.
The Japanese-American fisherman who stands trial for the alleged
murder of Carl Heine. When Kabuo was a boy, his family worked as
sharecroppers on the strawberry farm owned by Carl Heine, Sr. Like his
father, Zenhichi, Kabuo is a master at kendo, the Japanese art of
stick fighting. Kabuo considers himself a murderer because he killed
enemy soldiers in World War II, in which he fought for the United
States Army. Since the war, Kabuo has been consumed with his dream
to repurchase his family’s land.
in-depth analysis of Kabuo Miyamoto.
The local fisherman who dies mysteriously on the night of September 15
The son of Etta and Carl Heine Sr., Carl was a high school classmate
of Kabuo, Ishmael, and Hatsue’s and was particularly good friends
with Kabuo. After fighting in World War II, however, Carl struggled
with his prejudices toward people of Japanese descent. A physically
robust, quiet man, he was greatly respected and admired by residents of
in-depth analysis of Carl Heine.
- Ishmael’s father. Arthur founded and edited the San
Piedro Review, the most prominent newspaper on the island. Arthur
frequently—and courageously—used the editorial column in his newspaper
as a forum to condemn the racism directed at San Piedro’s Japanese-American
residents during World War II. Though his editorials often provoked
hostility from much of the community, Arthur maintained a strong heart
and firmly believed that his perspective was the correct one.
mother. Now a widow, Helen remains committed to the principles of
tolerance and honesty her husband demonstrated. She doubts that
Kabuo’s trial is fair. Concerned about Ishmael’s solitary and seemingly
joyless life, Helen urges her son to get over his emotional issues
and fall in love again.
local sheriff. Art initially believes that Carl’s death is an accident,
but he begins to suspect Kabuo of murder after hearing the coroner’s
offhand comment that Carl’s head wound resembles wounds inflicted
by Japanese soldiers skilled in the martial art of kendo. His willingness
to make such a leap of logic epitomizes the anti-Japanese sentiment
prevalent on San Piedro.
- Art Moran’s young and relatively inexperienced deputy.
Island County coroner and a World War II veteran. Horace is shattered
by his experience as a wartime doctor and feels like a shell of
his former self. He envies Carl Heine’s strength and vitality even
as he examines Carl’s corpse.
Judge Llewellyn Fielding
- The judge presiding over Kabuo’s murder trial. Although
he lets on to be sleepy and distracted, Judge Fielding is keenly
aware of everything that takes place in his courtroom. He understands
the racially charged nature of Kabuo’s trial and does all he can
to diminish the role that racism plays in the proceedings.
- Kabuo’s morally upright defense attorney. Nels is
in his late seventies, and his health is failing. Though he is blind
in one eye, his good eye exudes a sharp, penetrating intelligence.
prosecuting attorney in Kabuo’s trial. Hooks charges Kabuo with
first-degree murder and is rabidly seeking the death penalty. He
subtly appeals to the jury’s racism during the trial.
Susan Marie Heine
- Carl Heine’s beautiful, blond widow. When she was
seventeen, Susan Marie began to enjoy and relish her sexuality and
physical attractiveness, using them to pursue Carl when she was
twenty. Though Susan Marie feels that Carl was a hardworking, steady husband
and a good lover, she began to worry when she realized that their
sex life constituted the core of their marriage.
Carl Heine Sr.
- Carl Heine’s father, who owned the strawberry farm
on which the young Kabuo’s family lived and worked as sharecroppers.
Heine Sr.’s rabidly racist wife. Etta was furious when her husband
agreed to sell seven acres of his strawberry farm to Zenhichi Miyamoto,
Kabuo’s father. Immediately after her husband’s death, Etta sold his
land to a white farmer, Ole Jurgensen.
- A farmer and landowner in San Piedro. After Carl
Heine Sr. died, Etta sold his strawberry farm to Ole, including
the seven acres that Zenhichi Miyamoto had contracted to buy from
her husband. When Ole suffers a stroke in June 1954
he puts his farm up for sale, and Carl Heine Jr. quickly snatches
mother. While her daughters were growing up, Fujiko was wary of
hakujin, the word she used to refer to white Americans. She urged
her young daughters to follow their Japanese cultural traditions and
roles, and did not want to see them act like white Americans.
- Hatsue’s teacher. When Hatsue was thirteen, her
parents sent her to Mrs. Shigemura for training in social graces.
Mrs. Shigemura told Hatsue to avoid white men and their bizarre
fetishes for Japanese girls and advised Hatsue to marry a good Japanese
man. She thus represents the old school of Japanese values.
- Kabuo’s father. When Kabuo was eight years old, Zenhichi
began training him in the Japanese martial art of kendo, or stick
fighting, and emphasized the discipline and self-restraint of the
art. Like Mrs. Shigemura, Zenhichi embodies traditional Japanese values.
Alexander Van Ness
- A local boat builder and member of the jury in Kabuo’s
trial. Van Ness does not believe the evidence proves Kabuo’s guilt
beyond a reasonable doubt, and he refuses to convict the fisherman
of murder until the other jurors effectively convince him of Kabuo’s