Snow Falling on Cedars

Main Ideas

Key Facts

Main Ideas Key Facts

full title  Snow Falling on Cedars

author   David Guterson

type of work   Novel

genre   Courtroom drama; historical novel; coming-of-age novel

language   English

time and place written   United States, 19841994

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.