Snow Falling on Cedars

by: David Guterson

Chapters 19–21

Summary Chapters 19–21

Analysis : Chapters 19–21

This section provides new depth to the character of Susan Marie Heine. Up to this point, we know little about Susan Marie. Her muted reaction to the news of Carl’s death suggests that she has a stoic outlook on life. Similarly, in saying that she always knew that Carl’s death would happen like this one day, Susan Marie demonstrates the same kind of passivity in the face of uncontrollable forces that characterizes so many aspects of life on San Piedro. Her relationship with Carl is based only on sexual attraction, so she never fully understands her husband. She does not share the wounds of war and hatred that have plagued Carl, Horace, Ishmael, Kabuo, and others. Susan Marie respects Carl’s privacy about his past but also accepts that their relationship must always be limited as a result. Her ability to persevere after losing Carl suggests that such limitations are the compromises that must be made to function in a world governed by chance.

From Susan Marie’s testimony we learn that Carl faced a dilemma in deciding whether to sell the land to Kabuo. In his conversation with Susan Marie, Carl admitted his reluctance to sell the land to a “Jap” like Kabuo. Rather than blame his mother for cheating the Miyamotos and then sell the farm to others, Carl tacitly blamed the Japanese for forcing him to abandon his land to fight in the war. In this regard, Carl resembles Ishmael, who blames the Japanese for Hatsue’s rejection of him.

The testimonies of Dr. Sterling and Sergeant Maples show how the prosecution attempts to distort the evidence toward a guilty verdict in two ways. Sergeant Maples’s testimony is largely insubstantial and circumstantial, as Alvin Hooks attempts to twist the fact of Kabuo’s martial-arts skill into a stereotype of Japanese men as violent and murderous. His argument is not factual and attempts to play solely on the jurors’ prejudices. The hematologist’s testimony, in contrast, is based on fact, as the blood type found on the gaff is indeed somewhat uncommon. However, Alvin Hooks fails to mention that fully twenty percent of people of Japanese descent have this blood type. When Nels Gudmundsson makes us aware of this fact in his cross-examination, we realize that Hooks likely omits it on purpose. He has reported the facts only selectively, attempting to hide this bias behind the guise of science. In these testimonies, then, we see that Kabuo faces not only sensationalism and stereotyping, but also insidious attempts to contort even rational arguments in a way that makes him appear guilty.