The temporal setting of the trial is also significant, although Guterson does not tell us when the trial is happening until later. The trial takes place over a few days in early December 1954, including December 7. It was on this day in 1941 that Japanese warplanes bombed Pearl Harbor, prompting the United States to enter World War II. Since the trial involves a Japanese-American accused of murdering a white American, this anniversary is charged with significance and heightens tensions in the small, racially mixed community.
Chapter 1 also establishes the novel’s three main characters: Ishmael, Hatsue, and Kabuo. Though Guterson includes few details about the characters at this point, our first glimpse provides a lot of information about them. Kabuo is proud and silent, Ishmael is sullen and awkward, and Hatsue is willful and bitter. These brief glimpses of their characters help us better understand each person’s motives and perspectives as the novel moves forward.