Summary: Chapter 29

There are things in this universe that we cannot control, and then there are the things we can.

See Important Quotations Explained

Alvin Hooks makes his closing arguments to the jury. He urges the jurors to imagine Carl in need of help and at the mercy of Kabuo, who leaps aboard Carl’s boat and kills him with the gaff. He implores the jury to look into the face of the accused man to determine his innocence or guilt.

Nels Gudmundsson then offers his closing argument, noting that there is no evidence to suggest Kabuo plotted a murder or had a motive to murder. Nor is there any hard evidence that foul play even occurred. Nels asserts that the trial is not about murder but about prejudice, reminding the jury that Kabuo’s face—the face of Japanese America—must not sway their feelings. They must judge him as an individual, an American, and a fellow member of their community.

Closing the trial, Judge Fielding reminds the jury that the charge against Kabuo is first-degree murder. Conviction on this serious charge requires a unanimous ruling by the jury. The judge reminds the jury that it must deliver a guilty verdict only if it is convinced of every element of the charge beyond a reasonable doubt. He reminds the jurors that if they have any reasonable uncertainty regarding the truth of the charges, they are bound by law to find Kabuo not guilty.

Analysis: Chapters 25–29

The testimonies in these chapters alternately address Kabuo’s identity within groups and his identity as an individual. This tension between the individual and the community is one of Guterson’s constant concerns in the novel, and here we see the different witnesses struggle to define Kabuo in terms of different communities. To Josiah Gillanders, Kabuo’s status as a gill-netter overshadows his identity as a Japanese American. When Kabuo assists Carl, it is their shared identity as fishermen that ultimately allows them to put their other differences aside. Carl decides to sell the seven acres to Kabuo because Kabuo has heeded the gill-netters’ implicit code of ethics. In their confrontation on the water, Kabuo directly challenges Carl’s prejudice and appeals to his reason as an individual. Kabuo also argues that though they are of different races, they are both Americans. They cannot build a relationship if they continue to consider each other “Japs” and hakujin. It is only when they encounter each other as fellow fishermen and fellow Americans that they put their prejudices aside.

Prosecutor Alvin Hooks, on the other hand, subtly tries to identify Kabuo as a member of the Japanese community rather than a fisherman. Knowing that the white jurors likely do not regard Japanese-Americans as full members of the San Piedro community, Hooks anticipates and plays on this prejudice in order to build his case against Kabuo. Hooks’s hypothetical scenario, in which Kabuo pretends to be in trouble in order to lure Carl Heine to his death, plays on these prejudices, relying on the stereotype of Japanese-Americans as treacherous, poker-faced, cold-blooded killers. Hooks subtly compares Kabuo to the wartime stereotype of the Japanese-American who professes loyalty to the United States while stabbing it in the back. When Hooks tells the jurors to look at Kabuo’s face and do their duty as citizens of their community, he implicitly wants them to look at Kabuo’s Japanese face—an outsider’s face. Hooks wants the jury to find Kabuo guilty because he looks physically different and is therefore not part of their community.

Guterson emphasizes the physical differences between Kabuo and Carl, suggesting that these disparities are what cause the community’s opposite perceptions of the two men. Carl embodied San Piedro’s ideal citizen: the silent, self-sufficient white fisherman. He was also a war veteran who, unlike the damaged Horace or Ishmael, was able to keep his past safely buried out of sight. The fact that his fellow fishermen hardly knew Carl—and even feared him to some extent—is no longer relevant. In death he is a hero of sorts. Kabuo, by contrast, is the villain but also the victim. A young man born and raised in America who served his country in war even as that same country left his family languishing in an internment camp, Kabuo should be considered a true hero. Yet upon his return to San Piedro he found a community that had no interest in helping him or his fellow Japanese Americans. Kabuo serves as a painful reminder and symbol of the white community’s guilt in allowing such discrimination to befall the Japanese-American community. Hooks’s plea that the jury do its citizenly duty by once again purging the “Japanese menace” offers the white community retroactive justification for the discrimination it practiced during the war.