full title Snow Falling on Cedars
author David Guterson
type of work Novel
genre Courtroom drama; historical novel; coming-of-age novel
time and place written United States, 1984–1994
date of first publication 1994
publisher Harcourt Brace and Company
narrator An anonymous third-person narrator
point of view The narrator speaks in the third person and is omniscient, able to see all of the action, both past and present, and aware of what is going on inside the minds of all the characters. The narrator alternates between a straightforward narrative of events and moments of subjective narration from within the minds of various characters.
tone The narrator’s tone is serious and distant, though at times sympathetic to the characters.
tense Past, with flashbacks between the trial (December 1954) and various earlier events and interactions
setting (time) December 1954, with flashbacks
setting (place) San Piedro, a fictional island in Puget Sound, Washington; flashbacks include scenes in Seattle, Montana, California, Japan, the Tarawa Atoll in the South Pacific, and other places
protagonist Ishmael Chambers
major conflict Kabuo Miyamoto stands trial for the murder of Carl Heine, while Ishmael Chambers struggles to overcome his emotionally and physically shattered past.
rising action Kabuo’s arrest for murder; Hatsue’s request for Ishmael’s help; Ishmael’s bitterness about Hatsue’s rejection of him
climax Ishmael’s discovery, in Chapter 23, of evidence proving Kabuo’s innocence brings Ishmael’s conflicting desires to hurt and help Hatsue to a breaking point.
falling action Ishmael’s rereading of Hatsue’s letter as he sits in his father’s study; Ishmael’s decision to help Hatsue by coming forward with the evidence that exonerates Kabuo; Judge Fielding’s dismissal of the charges against Kabuo
themes The struggle between free will and chance; the cyclical nature of prejudice; the limits of knowledge
motifs The storm; the body; testimony
symbols The cedar tree; Arthur Chambers’s chair; the courthouse; Ishmael’s camera
foreshadowing The snowstorm brewing outside the courthouse at the beginning of the trial hints at the impersonal forces, such as prejudice, that will be at work during the trial. Arthur Chambers’s question to Ishmael about which facts the newspaper should print hints at the unreliability of people’s perceptions of the truth.