Snow Falling on Cedars

by

David Guterson

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Snow Falling on Cedars: Chapter 10 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
In the courtroom, Alvin Hooks continues to question Etta. She tells him that she moved back to Amity Harbor in 1944 after her husband’s death, as she couldn’t work the land on her own. Hooks asks Etta whether she heard from the Miyamotos after this, and she reveals that she did, in July, 1945. Kabuo had come to her door inquiring after the property. “Well,” responded Etta, “I told you people about it when I sent on down the equity.” She couldn’t work the land on her own, she explained to Kabuo; he’d have to go to Ole Jurgensen if he had questions about the land.
Again, Etta demonstrates how much of a bigot she is, referring to the Miyamotos as “you people.” When she insinuates that the land is a matter between Ole Jurgensen and herself, she denies Kabuo his entitlement to the land. She also condescends to him, acting as though it’s not worth her time to explain the matter to him further.
Themes
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Kabuo replied that he had talked to Ole, who had no idea that Carl Sr. had sold the seven acres to Zenhichi. Etta scoffed at the idea that she should have told Ole about what she considered an illegal arrangement. The Miyamotos hadn’t met their payments, she told Kabuo, so she was right to sell the land.
Etta ignores the legal and historical circumstances (the Alien Land Law) that forced Carl Sr. and Zenhichi to draw up the deal as a technical “lease” in the first place, asserting that the contract was illegitimate. Her prejudice prevents her from extending any sympathy towards the Miyamotos’ situation.
Themes
Racism and Prejudice Theme Icon
After this confrontation, Etta recalls in her testimony, there was no further communication between her and Kabuo, except “dirty looks.” Etta tells the court that Kabuo gives her angry looks any time he sees her, and she says that Carl Jr. knew all about the feud and that was wary of Kabuo. Etta insists that Kabuo was never a friend of her son’s. Hooks speculates on Etta’s remark, asking: “He saw some danger from Mr. Miyamoto?” Gudmundsson objects to Hooks’s follow up, arguing that Hooks is forcing Etta to speculate about what Carl Jr. might have thought.
It’s unclear whether the “dirty looks” Kabuo directs at Etta are actually malicious or merely blank and unreadable. Guterson repeatedly draws the reader’s attention to the double standard applied to an unreadable facial expression. Someone like Etta’s own son, Carl, for example, is often unreadable, yet she never assumes the worst of him. What’s more, Etta’s instance that Kabuo was never Carl’s friend is a lie—it’s clear from her earlier memories that the two were at least friendly in their youth. When Hooks asks Etta to speculate as to whether Carl “saw some danger from Mr. Miyamoto,” he is encouraging her to construct a version of the “truth” that cannot be verified by what little “facts” are available to the court.
Themes
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Facts vs. Truth Theme Icon
Hooks amends his question to ask what Etta saw in her son that would suggest he was afraid of Kabuo. Etta agrees that the term “family feud” could describe the conflict between the two men, and continues to speculate on Kabuo’s motivations for supposedly killing her son. Gudmundsson objects again, and Judge Fielding sustains the objection, asking that Etta stick to answering specific questions.
Even as Hooks rephrases his question to appear more objective, Etta continues to speculate. Hooks wants the jury to see Etta’s belief that “family feud” motivated Kabuo to kill Carl as a valid “fact,” even though it’s only her own prejudiced opinion. Judge Fielding sustains Gudmundsson’s objection because he wants to do all he can to eliminate bias in his courtroom. 
Themes
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Facts vs. Truth Theme Icon
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Nels Gudmundsson takes his turn. He asks Etta three questions: whether it’s true that the value of the Miyamotos’ land, at the time of purchase, was $4,500 (it was); what the price of the land was per acre when Etta sold the land to Ole Jurgensen years later ($1,000 per acre); and lastly, whether these two sums would mean that the land increased in value by $2,500 of she sold it to Ole Jurgensen (it would). Nels has no more questions for Etta.
Nels inquires about the exact price for which the Miyamotos purchased the land, the exact price for which Etta sold the land to Ole, and the exact value by which the land appreciated over time in order to steer the trial away from biased speculation and towards observable, objective evidence.
Themes
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Facts vs. Truth Theme Icon
Ole Jurgensen testifies after Etta. Ole is old: he had a stroke in June and walks with a cane. At Hooks’s urging, Ole verifies that he was a longtime friend of the Heines, for more than 40 years. He’d owned 30 acres of strawberry fields before acquiring 30 more from Etta. Hooks asks Ole if the agreement Etta had him sign was clear, and Ole concedes that yes, it was clear; Ole hadn’t been aware of the Miyamotos’ seven acres until Kabuo came to see him in the summer of 1945, claiming that “Mrs. Heine robbed him, Mr. Heine never would have let no such thing like that happen.” Hooks acts flabbergasted that Kabuo would’ve used to word “rob” to describe what Etta had done.
The fact that Ole has been a friend of the Heines for over 40 years suggests that he would have no reason to doubt the legitimacy of the agreement Etta brought to him to sign. Ole’s confidence in the agreement could validate its legitimacy in the jurors’ eyes, as well. Hooks first establishes the legitimacy of this agreement to make Kabuo’s supposed claim that “Mrs. Heine robbed him” appear unfounded and uncalled for to the jurors. The order in which Hooks asks Ole questions impacts how the jury perceives Ole’s answers. In this way, Hooks manipulates facts to construct a particular version of the truth.
Themes
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Kabuo told Ole he wanted his family’s seven acres back, but Ole, had been unwilling to sell. When Kabuo left, Ole recalls, he said angrily that “some day he would get his land back.”
Ole’s testimony is meant to make Kabuo out to be a man angry at being wronged, who would stop at nothing to “get his land back.” 
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Ole continues his testimony. After his stroke in June, he changed his mind and decided to sell his land, putting it on the market shortly after Labor Day. Carl Heine Jr. had approached him first and Ole sold the land to Carl. Carl admitted to Ole that fishing never really suited him, and he wanted to turn to farming, his father’s livelihood. Ole and his wife, could see that it hurt Carl to admit aloud to being only a mediocre fisherman. Carl, Ole tells the court, had put down $1,000 on the land. This sealed the deal.
It’s hard for Carl to admit out loud that he’s not a great fisherman because, like so many other San Piedro fishermen, he keeps his thoughts and feelings to himself. Ole and his wife are touched and sympathetic towards Carl’s difficulty expressing himself. This is another example of the sympathy extended to the book’s inexpressive white characters that is denied to the book’s inexpressive Japanese characters.
Themes
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Later the same day, Ole remembers, Kabuo came to his house to inquire after the land. Ole remembered that Kabuo had worked for him in 1939. Ole inquired after Kabuo’s father, Zenhichi, whom he also remembered; Kabuo told Ole that his father had been dead for years. When Ole told Kabuo he’d already sold the land, Kabuo “stiffened.” His face was unreadable. Ole told Kabuo that Carl Heine had bought the land earlier that day.
Guterson illustrates another example of the white islanders’ hypocritical stance on silence and unreadable facial expressions. Ole regards Kabuo’s unreadable face skeptically, noting that he “stiffened” on hearing the news that the land had already been sold. Ole is unsympathetic towards Kabuo’s inability to express himself, even though he had been accepting of Carl’s similar inexpressiveness earlier that same day.
Themes
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Carl Heine dropped by Ole’s house the next day to take down the “For Sale” sign on the land, and Ole told him Kabuo had been by, and explained “the way the politeness had gone out of” Kabuo’s face when he heard the land was sold. Carl nodded in response.
Again, Guterson emphasizes how much the white characters read into Kabuo’s neutral facial expressions. Ole’s observation that “the politeness had gone out of” Kabuo’s face when he heard about the sale is a harsh and likely racially biased conclusion to draw from so little evidence.
Themes
Racism and Prejudice Theme Icon
Facts vs. Truth Theme Icon